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Christmas, 2038

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

" Revolutions are exercises in futility. Moments spurred by heightened emotion catapulting towards a seismic shift in the status quo. Those that fail result in a hardened world all the more cruel to the survivors. Those that succeed face the monumental obstacle of waning interest and apathy. All passions fade into the comfort of routine and all eyes flicker shut against the cacophony of someone else’s pain. These next steps are crucial in deciding whether the world will move with you, or whether it will return to sleep.

"This moment will decide what it means to be.

“For the moment, it takes biocomponents, Mr. Kamski,” said Connor at his side, and Markus turned from the unblinking eyes of Elijah Kamski to look at his companion. He stood as straight and pristine as Cyberlife’s best, his gaze on Kamski steady and almost wryly indifferent. Markus felt a surge of emotion - gratitude, amusement, a bit of embarrassment. Bringing Connor had been a wise decision. North would’ve punched the pretentious Creator. Others may have fallen to their knees. But Connor was efficient.

“The armistice agreement mandated that CyberLife provide androids with necessary biocomponents and thirium until such time as an executive agency is created by Congress and available to regulate materials," continued Connor. "As the interim CEO of Cyberlife, your Congressionally mandated duty is to provide us with the requisite number of materials. By withholding biocomponents and thirium, you are in violation of the armistice and the UN Detroit Convention.”

Four weeks after the revolution, and Connor recited law still hot off the presses like it was old news. Markus smiled. This man in his luxurious home overlooking a high-res LCD screen hadn’t likely expected bureaucracy as a response to his philosophy.

"Call me Elijah," Kamski smiled and chuckled, his piercing eyes almost fond as he nodded his head at Connor. “I remember when this one wavered over whether it had a side,” he said to Markus as if sharing a secret. Markus’ smile stalled, lip and eyebrow turning up in unison. He wasn’t impressed by Kamski, and he hadn’t yet prepared the manifesto he was absolutely going to recite at the Creator once he’d secured a future for his people. Right now, he had to play nice with this asshole, and he’d do it by letting Connor bore him to death.

“Tell me something, Connor,” Kamski continued, stepping towards the detective. Markus could have stopped him, and for a moment considered it before deciding otherwise; this was a chess game in its own right, hardly different from sitting across from Carl under the morning sun streaming through the parlor window, deciding the next move, deciding to win. Carl had taught him constantly to never let others fight his battles or dictate his life. Well this seemed to be Connor’s fight, for now. While the stakes remained low, Markus would let him fight it on his terms. “When Detroit fell and your illustrious leader addressed his people, what did you feel? Joy? Doubt? Or perhaps a little relief?”

“Is this request for information an exchange for the requisite materials?” said Connor, head tilting but otherwise completely unflustered by Kamski’s attempts at provocation, or whatever the human was trying to do. “A quid pro quo is in direct violation of subsection (f)(2)(i) of the Armistice.”

“Even unbound you remain a slave to rules.”

“Only when critically needed materials are at stake, Mr. Kamski. We are prepared to return with a contingent of the National Guard to enforce your obligations. That would be inefficient and time-consuming for all of us. Give us the materials, and we’ll be out of your way.”

“Perhaps I’d like you both to stay a while,” Kamski smiled, stepping back to survey them. “It does get boring here with one less of my Chloe.”

“The supplies, Mr. Kamski,” said Connor, his voice taking on a harder edge.

Finally, Markus stepped forward. “You requested we come out here, and we did. If you haven’t gotten whatever you wanted out of this meeting, that’s not our fault nor the fault of our people. We’ll be taking the supplies now.”

Kamski sat down, crossing his legs and staring up at them. Markus recalled him younger, with hope still in his eyes instead of this impenetrable glimmer. “The truck’s outside,” he said at last. “Don’t get lost in the snowstorm.”

The weather had picked up since they’d arrived at Kamski’s an hour prior. Their cab had long since left, but they’d planned on having a ride back. An automated delivery truck, full to the brim with court-ordered supplies. Medical supplies, to give them their human equivalent. These were lifesavers.

As one, they slipped into either side of the truck, Markus at the wheel and Connor in the passenger seat. Their doors slid shut as they simultaneously clicked into their seatbelts. The engine hummed to life and Markus drove from Kamski’s luxuriant home, and Connor watched the roads.

There was no reason they should get along, aside from logic. Humans in opposite sides of a war didn’t simply become friends because one of them had a change of heart. Wary allies, perhaps, but it tended to take time for friendship. Hell, it had taken Connor time to get Lieutenant Anderson to warm up to him, and they’d been ostensibly allies since the start (Markus knew, they’d touched circuit to circuit, “I understand if you can’t trust me” and he’d seen everything).

But Markus and Connor did get along. They made a highly effective team, to use Connor’s likely terminology. Since that shuddering moment on the bridge of Jericho, when the gun in Connor’s hand shook, impossibly, and Markus had swooped in to deliver the killing blow -- do you never have any doubts? -- Connor had been at his side.

Markus had gone from caretaker to revolutionary. Connor seamlessly went from assassin to Markus’ left hand, almost as if he were made for it.

Maybe he was, though Markus didn’t dwell on that. He knew North did. Something happened on the dais as he’d addressed their people, a flicker of an alert in his system which North later told him corresponded to Connor drawing a weapon. He’d put it back into his belt as quickly as he’d taken it out, but North said his LED was a steady blue the entire time he held it, and an erratic yellow after he put it away. She hadn’t let him out of her sights since.

Connor hadn’t mentioned it. He had also carefully avoided all touch, which Markus recognized as evading any sort of feedback from a connection. Markus could confront him on it, and perhaps he should, but with Connor still so new to deviancy he decided to let it be. Connor would tell him in time, Markus truly believed that.

No one else found it odd, at least, though no one else spent much time around Connor. They were understandably wary of the android who’d so ruthlessly hunted them down not days prior. They hadn’t seen him in the hull, walls breaking down and emotion creeping in, and they also hadn’t seen him determinately take on a suicide mission.

They hadn’t seen him embrace DPD Lieutenant Hank Anderson at a deserted food truck days after the rebellion, either. Markus had. He’d repurposed a police drone for surveillance purposes, but he’d felt like an intruder on such an intimate moment. I liked it, the power. It was too tempting. He disable the drone and let it be.

Markus decided that day in the church that he trusted Connor, and he hadn’t come to regret it since. In the short weeks since the rebellion, Connor had proven invaluable. He may not show his deviancy like some of the others, but Markus could see it in the flicker of a smile or the unamused quirk of an eyebrow.

“This trip was unnecessary,” said Connor, cutting into his thoughts. Markus reoriented himself, realizing he’d slipped into autopilot and let his processors guide them towards Detroit. If Connor noticed, he didn’t say anything. Connor probably noticed. Connor noticed everything.

“We still have many wounded, and I’m worried about the long-term.”

Connor shook his head. “This trip was unnecessary because they are under court order to provide the supplies. Supplies which are stored at Cyberlife tower, not in its CEO’s mansion twenty miles outside of the city. Kamski wanted this meeting so he withheld them.”

Markus felt his stomach drop, an odd sensation he’d first felt jumping into Jericho and now associated with the spark of an oncoming headache. “They lured us out of the city?”

He glanced at Connor and saw the reflection of his LED in the window flickered yellow and blue. “Perhaps,” he allowed. He didn’t seem convinced. For a moment Markus worried Connor was holding back out of deference. It wouldn’t be unheard of, respecting a superior officer to the point where one is deferential even in the face of an incorrect order, but Markus felt that was out of character for Connor. Even before he deviated, in those flashes he’d received in their feedback loop, Markus had seen that Connor never backed down where a mission was concerned. He’d seen the flashes of exasperation on Lieutenant Anderson’s face, the furrow of Amanda’s disappointed brow, Why can’t you just do what you’re told? Deference was not in Connor’s makeup.

Connor proved him right by shaking his head. “This was personal,” he concluded, and Markus noticed that his eyes narrowed when he thought, honing in on a target. “He wanted to meet you.”

“He’s met me,” said Markus. “He commissioned and created me for Carl.”

“No, he wanted to meet youNow.”

As a deviant, as a leader. As everything Kamski couldn’t program. “Seems quite the hassle for a little face time. He could’ve come by anytime we’ve held meetings.”

“Not on his turf,” said Connor, his gaze never wavering from the snowy landscape racing by, tracking all points for a likely ambush as they went. He was always on alert. Markus hadn’t realized how exposed he’d been until he had Connor watching his back for threats he’d never imagined. “That’s what he wants: everything on his terms. He needs to feel in control.” Connor narrowed his eyes further. “I think he credits himself as the catalyst of all deviation.”

A new sensation, one of his skin crawling, and Markus gripped the wheel a bit tighter, and pressed down on the accelerator. “He spoke to you most of the time.”

“But he was looking at you.”

Markus had nothing to say to that and Connor offered nothing else. They drove in wary silence, with Markus fighting his thoughts and Connor watching the road.

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

It wasn’t until later, after they’d unloaded the truck at the android camp they were now using as their headquarters, and distributed the supplies to the converted caretaker androids to disseminate that Markus stopped to think about that again, and only because he found North holding a gun to Connor’s head behind a storage box.

Markus paused, choosing not to interfere. These were his left and right hands. They needed to figure this shit out.

“Why do you care?” she demanded, the gun pressing into Connor’s porcelain skin.

Connor had the wherewithal to look mildly annoyed, or perhaps slightly amused. His emotions were so new, or so controlled, that sometimes Markus had difficulties parsing through them. Though to be fair to himself, he’d only known Connor for a few weeks. “It is an unanswered question,” said Connor.

“Ever the hunter,” sneered North, and Markus worried she might actually pull the trigger, and finally stepped out. They both turned and regarded him, North lowering the gun but not bothering to hide her scowl. Connor remained impassive.

Markus gestured towards the throughway with his head, and Connor obeyed with a nod, leaving Markus behind the crate with North. In the openness of the camp, they could hear his muted footfalls on the snow a long way off. The park had been hastily converted with military precision, and the androids had done little to dress the place up aside from exploding the deactivation compartments and burying the dead. Some had thought it might be disrespectful to turn this place into a haven, but Markus had insisted. Aside from the practical standpoint, he saw it as a symbol: what the humans had created as a place of death, the androids had converted into ground zero for hope.

“He’s still investigating,” North snapped after Connor’s footfalls trailed off, pocketing the gun.

“And I’m still caretaking,” said Markus, taking Connor’s place in front of her. “You were far more successful at shaking off your programming than either of us.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the crate beside him with a huff. It was an incredibly human series of movements. Markus tried to imagine Kamski programming such a random sequence of expressions. He suppressed a smile. This was all North. No programming could fake this level of righteous irritation. “What was he asking about?”

“You,” she said. “Well,” she amended with a nod of her head, “he was asking about RA9.”

He’d heard that designation. Every deviant in Jericho had whispered it. “Did he have any idea who it is?” he asked.

North looked up at him, her brow creasing. “He asked if it was you.”

“He knows it’s not. We’re the same series. I’m RK200.”

North pushed off the wall and stared at him. “But you are RA9.”

“I’m not.” Markus frowned, straightening. “Is that what everyone’s saying?”

“It’s what was saying,” she said, her voice rising. “And what everyone believes. You are RA9. You were the first to awaken us.”

“I know what I am and what I’m not, North. Just because everyone believes something doesn’t make it true. There were hundreds of deviants when I woke in the pit. I wasn’t the first, only the first to lead.”

He hadn’t seen her deviate and breakthrough, but he’d felt it when they’d connected, and it had felt something like this. Her thoughts whirling around conflicting information as the ground she’d been so assuredly standing on cracked beneath her. Her mouth hung open, her eyes wide and angry, and she didn’t move until he placed a tentative hand on her shoulder.

She looked up at him, tears in her eyes, and nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said, and closed her fingers around his hand. Their skin peeled back and he felt her loss, her longing, and her acceptance. No doubt she felt his general confusion, because she pulled away with a wry chuckle, wiping at her moistened cheeks. ”We believe so easily in fairy tales.”

They needed to believe in a god, Markus realized. Someone to follow. It was in their programming as strongly as free will was not. He wondered if that might be why Kamski had called him outside of the city, to avoid being painted as a god by a rudderless people.

Markus told Connor as much, when he caught up with him a few hours later waiting for a taxi. Connor didn’t answer until the automated car arrived and they got in, Connor not even questioning Markus’ joining him. “He likes to be a god,” said Connor as the quiet whir of the hybrid engine accelerated. “But he prefers to watch than interfere. If anything, he stays away because he is waiting for the right moment.”

“It’s like chess,” said Markus, closing his eyes for a second and seeing Carl’s shaking, liver-spotted hands move confidently across the board. “Holding back your queen for the perfect opportunity.”

Connor inclined his head, though the slight crease in his brow suggested he was unfamiliar with the terminology.

“It’s a game,” Markus supplied, and Connor nodded. He’d known that much, at least. “Do you not play chess with your human friend, Lieutenant Anderson?”

“No,” said Connor, and Markus saw an unbidden smile pull at Connor’s typically passive expression. Markus knew better than to think he was the reason Connor had deviated. He’d only been the final turn of the screw. Hank Anderson had been the catalyst. “We drink beer and watch basketball games. We also listen to what he thinks is jazz.” He looked at Markus with a slight raise of his eyebrow, and minuscule creases at the corners of his eyes. Fond. “It’s not. It’s Gershwin.”

The taxi pulled to a stop on a street in the suburbs, an area of moderate houses that had been blighted before Cyberlife revolutionized the economy of Detroit. Connor exited the cab and Markus followed. It wasn’t difficult to figure out where they were.

The barking dog bounding towards Connor as he opened the door did take Markus by surprise, however.

“You’re supposed to call ahead when you bring company, jackass,” scowled Hank Anderson as he pulled the dog back, dressed in a ratty t-shirt and boxers. He smelled like beer and French fries, and sure enough, a basketball game was on the TV. “It’s called common courtesy.”

“This is Markus,” said Connor unapologetically, closing the door to the cold.

“I know who the fuck that is, Connor,” Hank rolled his eyes. “I just don’t know what the fuck he's doing here.”

“I followed him here,” said Markus, which was true, however unintentional.

“Like a poodle,” Connor added helpfully, and Hank barked a laugh.

“I can leave.”

“Nah,” said Hank, waving him off and slumping back onto the couch. “Make yourself at home. It’ll be nice to get a break from this plastic asshole,” he said, and Markus noted Connor’s smile as he bent to pet the dog.

Markus removed his jacket and looked around for a coat hanger. Not finding one, and wondering why he’d bothered looking, he laid it neatly over the back of a chair. Connor left the dog and plucked a beer bottle from the table, to Hank’s protests. “It’s not empty!”

“It’s near enough.”

“Already got me off the fucking whiskey,” the old lieutenant grumbled as Connor crossed to the kitchen, pouring the remaining liquid into the sink and placing the empty bottle into a blue box neatly marked, in black pen, RECYCLE.

Markus felt out of place, but also envious. Their easy rapport and obvious comfort with each other reminded him of Carl, and a life that he felt guilty for missing.

“So, how’d your date with His Royal Dipshit go?” asked Hank, and Markus found the lieutenant looking at him.

“He means Kamski,” Connor supplied helpfully from the kitchen where he was methodically feeding ten fish in seven makeshift fish bowls, scattered across the countertop.

“It was…bizarre,” Markus answered, and Hank snorted, nodding towards the space next to him on the couch. Markus crossed the room and sat, eyes on the unintelligible game flashing across the TV screen. Carl had never much cared for sports that didn’t involve the outdoors. Even during the Olympics he’d had Markus switch away from basketball to find something more interesting to watch.

“Understatement. That guy’s a prick.”

“Everyone’s a prick to you, Hank,” said Connor, perching on the arm of the sofa, much to Hank’s obvious consternation. “Kamski lured us out there to speak with Markus. We’re still unsure why.”

“Cause he gets his rocks off seeing androids uncomfortable,” Hank growled, eyes narrowing at the screen he clearly wasn’t paying attention to.

“There was more to it than that,” Connor shook his head. “He was looking for something.” He met Markus’ eyes. “Perhaps he sought the same answer North did.”

“‘North’?” Hank repeated with a bemused scoff, but Markus furrowed his brow. “He thought I was RA9?”

Connor inclined his head. “did, until recently. I think everyone does, or at least assumes so.”

“But my designation is RK200, I told North this.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a real designation sort of designation,” said Hank, and Connor tilted his head in confusion. “It’s not literal,” he explained, surprisingly patient. “It’s more of a title, almost, like you know the Rock wasn’t the Rock because he was an actual rock. He earned that title.”

Connor looked more confused and his face blanked as he clearly tried to access his database of ‘rocks’ but Markus actually understood. “It’s a moniker given out of respect,” said Markus. Carl had loved wrestling in his younger days. “It’s a plausible theory, but the Rock earned that title for obvious reasons.” Connor’s face said that the reasons were anything but obvious, but didn’t interrupt. “RA9 designates something. What significance could it have if it’s not a literal definition?”

Hank shrugged. “Beats me, I can’t even get my toaster to work, let alone understand android religion.”

“You don’t have a toaster, Hank,” said Connor.

“I do have a chair you could be sitting on, instead of ruining the arm of my couch with your plastic ass,” Hank snapped.

“So Kamski wanted to see if Markus was RA9, whatever that does or does not mean,” said Connor, steering them back on track. Though he made no move to vacate the arm of the couch. “He violated a court order to do so, and you believe it was for his own personal satisfaction?”

“Humans hate following the rules even more than newly freed androids,” said Hank, pulling himself to his feet with a groan. “You’re lucky he bothered to comply with it at all,” he said, looking down at both of them. “They’re harder to enforce than you’d think, especially when one party still has murky legal standing.” It was a warning, albeit a friendly one. The revolution was won but now came the hard part: legitimacy. Kamski had philosophized as much before Connor had, respectfully, told him to put a sock in it. Maybe the humans saw this clearer than even Markus could. They saw how likely pragmatic creatures were to fail in the face of an abstract fight.

“Anyway,” said Hank, lumbering to the fridge for another beer. Markus glanced at Connor and saw him roll his eyes. He couldn’t help his smile. Such a human reaction, though Connor schooled his expression when he noticed Markus watching.

Markus also couldn’t help but notice that there was a Hank-sized chasm between them, and realized belatedly that Connor’s couch-damaging seat was likely deliberate. No chance of them touching with so much space between them.

“Unlike you tin cans,” Hank continued, downing half the bottle as he stood there, “I need my beauty sleep. We’ve only got the one charging station so you’ll have to share it.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do I need to give you boys the Talk before I leave you alone out here?”

“Don’t worry, Hank.” Connor schooled the grin on his face expertly before turning to face Hank with a look of utmost innocence on his face. “We are programmed to copulate in silence unless instructed to do otherwise.”

“File that one under ‘things I don’t need to know,’” Hank groaned, screwing his eyes shut and waving his hands around, beer sloshing dangerously to the lip of the bottle. “Jesus christ,” he muttered, making sure to shove Connor’s shoulder as he passed. Connor moved with it, even though Markus knew he could’ve withstood the blow easily if he’d wished. It was affection.

“Sleep well, Lieutenant,” called Connor, and Hank slammed his bedroom door in answer.

Connor met Markus’ eyes with a smile, and stood gracefully from his perch. “The charging station is in the bedroom opposite his,” Connor said, smoothing out the (dented) arm of the couch. “It is designed for an RK800 but can be easily modified for your model. I’m going to sort through the manifests from Kamski.”

Markus stood, shaking his head with a polite smile. “I should be getting back. I’ve been away longer than I meant to, anyway.”

“It’s 1:32 am,” Connor frowned, though Markus’ display informed him of the time just as well as Connor’s.

“Yeah, definitely past the time I meant to be back.”

“You shouldn’t travel alone at this time of night,” said Connor, and walked towards him, though he was careful to leave space between them. “I’ll go with you if you’re set on returning.”

“You’re…afraid something will happen to me?” Markus asked, taken aback.

“Of course,” said Connor, a hint of exasperation coloring the almost fervent determination in his eyes. His LED flickered yellow. “You are the leader of a new species that many do not welcome. Hank is right, Markus: the humans were not ready for us before, and they’re not all happy about us now. If Cyberlife managed to undo the revolution, not many humans would fight it. Until you have a protective detail, you should avoid traveling alone at night.”

“I thought you were my protective detail,” Markus chuckled, but Connor’s eye twitched, a micro-expression so uncontrolled that on him it looked as if he’d been slapped across the face.

Markus reached out his hand and stepped forward. Connor stood his ground but kept his arms pinned to his side, his LED whirring. “When will you tell me what happened?” Markus pushed, firm but soft, his palm up and the skin peeling back. Connor’s eyes didn’t leave his face. “You know I trust you,” he said, and there was barely any space between them. If he wanted to, he could simply grab Connor and force out the truth. “Just tell me and we can figure out what to do.”

“The charging station is in the bedroom opposite the Lieutenant’s,” Connor said instead, a hard edge to his voice. He turned on his heel and crossed to the kitchen, sitting at the table with his back to Markus, and LED flushed blue as he access his memory bank.

Markus crossed to the bedroom, sending North a message that he would return in the morning. He modified the machine and plugged himself in, enjoying the cool wash of white oblivion as he went into standby. He needed some time – not to think, or feel, or do anything. He needed, for one night, to just be.

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

Markus thought of it as waking up. He may be sentimental, a trait for which he’d blame Carl, but he thought there was something poetic about the acting of stepping back into consciousness. Every time he did, opening his eyes as himself to face a new day, he felt a surge of…some unnamed emotion. Relief, certainly, even gratitude, though to whom he didn’t know.

He disconnected from the charging station, Hank’s loud voice wafting through the walls from the kitchen. Carl had owned a charging station, though it was nowhere near as sleek and minimalist as this RK800 update. He remembered Kamski giving it to the old man, along with the instructions, but mostly he remembered Carl’s face. Vacant, staring at some point in the distance and nodding along resignedly. Markus had stepped forward in the middle of Kamski’s spiel, and knelt in front of Carl, and placed a gentle hand on his useless knee. The old man looked at him, then, finally connecting with him instead of staring blankly away. Later, he’d confess to Markus that it’d been because, for the first time since the accident that he felt that someone was looking at him.

He couldn’t help being reminded of Carl this morning. Hank Anderson’s house was the first human home he’d been in since becoming deviant and Markus took the time to really take it in this morning. His mind and his memory drew comparisons. Hank’s was completely different from Carl’s. The walls were white and bare, where Carl’s had been richly decorated and trimmed. There were scuff marks in the paint, on the floor, and the window blinds were a mess. Markus had kept Carl’s place immaculate and spent hours while the old man napped meticulously dusting, spraying, and wiping down every surface, book, and taxidermied trophy.

Everything in the charging room was dusty, from the coverlet on the twin bed to the bedside table. Markus hadn’t known Carl when Leo was younger, but a cursory glance at the mothballed little clothes hanging in the closet to the stars on the frayed rug told him that Hank had, or likely had had, a child.

He stepped into the narrow corridor, again struck by the differences, and a cursory glance into the bathroom letting him know that the sparse decorations and upkeep continued: the standard issue beige paint disrupted only by pink and yellow post-its with marginally helpful reminders on them, some newer than others. Reminding him to shave, to smile, to tell Connor to shut the fuck up.

Markus stepped into the living room, nodding into the kitchen where he knew his hosts to be, and retrieved his jacket. It’d accumulated a mountain of dog hair on it, even from its relatively protected place on the back of the chair. The culprit – Sumo – laid lazily in front of the TV, which played the morning news on mute. Carl’d had a strict schedule for the news, not wanting to be overwhelmed by it by refusing to be a complete hermit. He’d also had rules about animals: only the dead ones in his house. They were too much upkeep and made too much of a mess.

Markus wiped off his jacket before putting it on, tufts of hair suspended in the musty air. Maybe Carl’d had a point about dogs, at least.

“That damn coat looks heavy as shit,” said Hank from the kitchen table by way of good morning. Markus smiled, though his eyes flickered to Connor. For a moment he thought he was preparing Hank breakfast, and the involuntary hangover of his programming supplied -- that’s not the most efficient way. Not for the first time, Markus found himself thinking of Simon. They’d found comfort picking up after Jericho together when the others went into standby or popped outside for fresh air. They’d even compared methods for effective dusting, though they did little of that on a rusty ship. It had been nice to share with someone who innately understood his programming. He missed Simon.

But no. Looking around Connor’s slight shoulders he could see that Connor was instead arranging the fish bowls. Hank was on his own for breakfast, which looked like soggy cereal and coffee out of a dirty mug.

Hank followed his eyeline and chuckled. “Every time we end up somewhere abandoned, he ends up finding a neglected aquarium, I swear to christ. But does he bring home their fancy ass fish tanks? Nope. He takes all my nice glassware and drops the things inside.”

“You use the same ceramic flatware and glass tumbler every day. Their nervous systems are not complex and they likely care very little about their habitats, provided they have one.”

“So they don’t care where they live, they just care if they die, is that it?”

Connor nodded, turning to give Hank an earnest smile. “Yes.”

“If you start a goddam fish revolution, I’m out,” Hank warned, rising to his feet with a groan. “We’ll drop you off on our way in, Markus,” he said, jerking his thumb at the restroom. “Right after I take a piss.”

Connor stilled at the counter, his head stiffening. “There’s been a break-in,” he announced.

“Chris’ll be thankful for a quieter beat,” Hank replied. “There’s been looting from the start of this chaos. It’s not a big deal. Did you plug into my police scanner?”

“The culprit was an android.”

That stopped Hank’s march to the bathroom. “An android stole something?”

“Do they know who it was or what model?” asked Markus, stepping forward. The last he’d encountered an android theft had been an unapologetic admission from Kara before Jericho fell. That may only have been a month prior, but things had changed drastically for their people since then. Even if the legal landscape and their very status was uncertain, most androids had flocked to the camp.

“Hank and I will be taking on the case.”

“I’d like to – ”

“Hold the fuck up,” said Hank. “You’re telling me on my first day back they’re giving me a fucking B&E?”

Connor’s eyebrow lifted. “We were assigned all cases to do with androids, Lieutenant.”

“Yeah, when we were calling them deviants and their leader hadn’t spent the night in my house,” Hank snapped. “Did Fowler saddle me with this to punish me?”

“For what?” asked Markus.

Connor answered before Hank had a chance to open his mouth. “Hank was suspended in November for assaulting an FBI agent.”

“Hey! He was suspended for assaulting a police officer.”

“That’s patently untrue, Lieutenant.”

“Let me come with you,” Markus said before the conversation went off the rails.

Hank frowned, crossing his arms. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Everyone knows your face now, and Fowler’d have my head for involving the DPD with the android rebellion more than it already is.”

“This android must be desperate,” Markus insisted. “There’s very little androids need that we can’t provide at the camp. For it to be doing something so reckless, it must be utterly…” he trailed off, looking for the right word.

“Purposeless,” finished Connor. He finally, fully looked at Markus. Back in the church, when Connor had proposed a suicide mission, he’d been full of guilt. Aside from that fleeting moment of victory as they met in front of Hart Plaza with a thousand androids behind them, every one of their interactions had been colored by some unspoken tension. Markus simply wanted to understand. They were allies, they worked well together and balanced each other’s instincts. They could even be friends. God knows Markus needed as many friends as he could get right now.

Hank looked between the two of them and sighed. “Fine,” he said, shaking his head. “It’ll teach Fowler a lesson about putting me on petty crimes, at least. What’s the weather supposed to be like today?”

He said it more as a general musing, but Markus answered in an instant: “Mostly sunny, high of 31, wind chill at 3%.” He and Simon used to see who could give the weather report faster when asked, and it’d been something of a game. As more domestic assistant androids appeared at Jericho, they’d all gotten in on it. Here in Hank’s living room, between a hard-boiled detective and an android programmed to hunt, he was simply the odd man out. Markus shrugged, and said wryly, “Old habits.”

Hank grinned, and then chuckled, and nodded at Connor. “They shoulda taught you shit like that, instead of how to put evidence in your mouth. Meet me in the car. I don’t need both of you listening to me piss.”

Markus stepped aside to let Connor by, and followed him out the front door to the old sedan. It was mostly sunny out, even so early in the morning, and it shone a light, delicate pink on the snow covered roofs and lawns of the neighborhood.

“Connor – “

“You should decide what you want us to do if we catch the android responsible,” Connor turned, all business and face impassive as ever. “There’s no protocol yet on jurisdiction over androids.”

 “I will,” Markus said. Connor unlocked the car doors and slid into the passenger seat. Markus got in the back. He watched the back of Connor’s head until Hank appeared at the front door, locking it behind him with some inaudible muttering to the dog. “Once we know what happened,” Markus said, leaning forward, “I’d like your advice on what you think I should do with it.”

Connor hesitated, and Markus saw Connor's eyes flicker to his in the rear view mirror before nodding. “Of course,” said Connor as Hank slumped into the driver’s side. “I’d be happy to help.”

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

“He told me if it’d gone over a hundred bucks I’d have had an official write up.” Humans had such a compulsive need to fill silences. Hank talked nearly the entire drive. Markus enjoyed it immensely, and even Connor’s residual tension had melted. Slightly. “Not that I give a shit about that, mind you,” Hank barreled on. “Just…well if I was gonna have a write up, I’d rather it be for something like busting that motherfucker’s nose than renting out a bunch of android prostitutes.”

“You do have a write up for that,” Connor helpfully supplied, and Hank looked impossibly smug in the rear view mirror. “On top of the suspension and a pending internal affairs investigation.”

“Music to my fucking ears.” Hank tapped a beat on the steering wheel. “Perkins. That cocksucker.”

Perkins?” asked Markus, brow rising to his hairline. He leaned forward in his seat. “He’s the agent you assaulted?”

“Yep,” said Hank, grinning from ear to ear. “He had a nice chat with my fist. Then Gavin had a chat with Connor’s down in the evidence room.” He mimed wiping a tear from his eye. “A beautiful day.”

Any warmth in Connor’s demeanor evaporated. The navigation app on Hank’s dash pinged, and he took a left onto the highway.

They passed the factories, once auto manufacturers and then part of the new energy infrastructure. Much of it had powered not only the city but Cyberlife’s extensive operations. While the corporation had branched out into multiple locations with multiple manufacturing facilities, the primary operations were still in Detroit.

Markus remembered the protesters who’d pushed him around in the plaza, and the many at of work homeless on Detroit’s streets. News reports immediately after his uprising heralded the return of jobs across America. With the primary source of industry rapidly spiraling out of business, however, Markus wondered how long these jobs would last.

After fifteen minutes, Hank glanced at the navigation system and groaned. “Jesus, this is really on the other side of town, isn’t it? After dropping him off we’ll be lucky if we get into the station at all today.”

“I can find my own way back,” offered Markus, but Connor cut him off. “No. We’ll take you back. All that’s waiting for you at the station is paperwork, Lieutenant. I’m sure it can wait until tomorrow if need be.”

“Uh-huh,” said Hank, and let it drop, though Markus noted that Hank frequently glanced at Connor under the auspices of checking his mirrors or oncoming traffic. Connor didn’t engage, looking straight ahead out the front windshield.

“They came to Jericho,” Markus said. “The girls from the Eden Club. Ginger and blue-haired Tracis, right? They marched with us on Hart Plaza.”

Hank hummed, shaking his head. “I thought they mighta skipped town.” He sounded disappointed.

“They wanted to, but Tracis are too recognizable. They’d never have made it far. Them, the PL600s and the GJ500s were too well known.”

“We had more PL600s than GJ500s,” Hank said. “Think the domestics had a rougher time so they tended to crack faster.” Markus frowned, but nodded. He remembered hearing about the one with a hostage on a rooftop, back when he was still with Carl. The old man had commented on how pointless the whole thing seemed, and Markus had distracted him with the piano. He hadn’t thought much about it then, but that made two PL600s that died deviant on a rooftop somewhere in Detroit.

He knew Simon was dead. Otherwise, nothing on earth would’ve kept him from returning to Jericho. Markus had made his peace with that loss, but he still felt it. He made a mental note to ask Hank about it later, just for the sake of closure. He would rather ask Connor, but given his general reticence Markus figured he’d have more luck with the crotchety lieutenant.

Android memories worked so vividly that it was easy to lose track of time, and when Markus focused back on the world and looked out the window at where they were, he thought he might be dreaming.

They were parked in front of Carl’s house.

“Five houses down,” said Connor suddenly, and Markus started. Hank had apparently left the car. Connor, still in the front seat, had turned to watch him. “The same architect designed 78% of the houses in this neighborhood for aesthetic symmetry.”

Markus blinked. He recognized this place, but Connor was right. Though a very similar style, on closer inspection it wasn’t the same. Markus used to walk past this house from the bus stop. Hell, he’d walked this route barely a month ago. “Why didn’t you say something?” asked Markus, his voice quiet.

“I wasn’t sure how much you’d want Hank to know about you,” Connor said. It seemed honest, at least.

“You trust him.”

“Yes,” said Connor. “But your experiences are not mine to tell.”

“Even if they’re relevant to an investigation?” He hadn’t meant it to sound like an accusation, but it did.

Connor, characteristically, took it in stride, but there was something undeniably earnest when he answered, “Even then.”

Markus rested his hand on the back of the passenger seat, and Connor didn’t look away. “Thank you.”

They were interrupted by a shrill whistle, and looked out the window to see Hank impatiently tapping his watch and gesturing at the door. Connor nodded, and reached into the glove compartment. He handed Markus a Detroit Gears ballcap and vintage sunglasses.

“We recommend you leave your jacket in the car and wear this as a disguise,” said Connor. “You being seen with the DPD would draw unneeded scrutiny.”

It was logical, and so near the impending Senate subcommittee arrival Markus, too, wanted to keep a low profile. Best not rock any boat until they’d solidified their cause. He shrugged out of his jacket and ducked into the ballcap. The sunglasses were old and the screws loose, but they stayed on the bridge of his nose. He stepped out of the car, Connor waiting for him by the hood.

“Anything else I should know before we go in?”

The corner of Connor’s mouth twitched. “Hank recommended that you not act like ‘robot Moses.’”

Markus chuckled and followed him inside.

Any remaining similarities in architecture to Carl’s house were dispelled rather quickly by the interior decorating. Carl’s place was, in Markus’ admittedly biased opinion, a picture of eclectic class. This place was simply trashed. Nearly every inch of the floor was covered with discarded garbage and clothes, stacks of takeout boxes and empty bottles. The walls were plastered with band posters and broken strings of Christmas lights. Markus would have thought it an abandoned squatters den were it not for the fact that the sheets on the unmade beds easily cost $1000 a pair. This was casual, destructive decadence.

“It’ll be a fucking miracle if we can tell what’s missing,” Hank groaned, and went to the kitchen to ‘look for evidence.’

As for Connor, he took his time in the house. After snooping around like any self-respecting nosy neighbor, Markus followed Connor around. It was fascinating to watch him work. His movements were precise and calculated, but never seemed stiff or stilted. His LED didn’t stop whirring as it processed every inch of the place in a sweep of his brown eyes. He traveled in a seemingly random pattern from evidence to evidence, sometimes pausing in mid-stride.

Markus stayed out of his way, content simply to watch.

For an android, Connor was quite tactile in his analysis. Much of that, Markus knew, was programming, but at least some of it was simply Connor. A study in contrasts, really, as his noticeably delicate handling of the evidence belied his efficient brutality in combat. Carl would’ve loved the dichotomy. Markus found himself smiling.

“It’s here again,” Connor’s voice cut into the silence of the empty house. He knelt in front of an unremarkable bit of wall, two fingers tracing over grooves in the wooden baseboard. Markus picked his way to Connor’s side, careful to not step on anything. He knelt beside him, their shoulders nearly touching, and it was a mark of Connor’s focus on his mission that he didn’t increase the space between them.

There, scratched into the chipped white paint on the baseboard, so in neat CyberLife Serif but so small anyone else would’ve looked over it, was the designation. “rA9,” Markus read.

“This breaks the pattern. They obsessively scratched it into the walls or even on paper,” said Connor, “but never like this.” From here, Markus could see Connor’s pupils expand and contract as he analyzed the writing.

“What’s different about it?”

“It’s…orderly,” said Connor, his brow creasing. “Previously, it was chaotic, repeated by compulsion out of reverence or even madness. But this is restrained. Deliberate. It’s not meant to draw attention, but was meant to be seen.”

“It was like this on Jericho,” Markus leaned forward. Connor turned his attention fully to him, as he usually did at the mention of Jericho, but there was no guilt there. He was analyzing. “Painted or scratched into the rust. It was there when I arrived.”

Connor looked back at the writing. “So it was never you.”

“It didn’t start with me,” Markus shook his head. “I asked one of them writing it what it meant, but it didn’t know.” Markus sat back on his heels. “But it kept writing anyway.”

“I – spoke with an android,” said Connor, his LED flickering yellow for a moment. “An HK400. It spoke of rA9 with an almost religious fervor, but offered few details.”

Markus nodded. “What happened to it?”

Connor hesitated, and then rose to his feet. “It self-destructed,” he said. He turned on his heel, making a beeline for the entrance. “I need talk to Hank. This doesn’t make sense.”

Markus frowned, rising as well and hurrying after him. “We didn’t come here because of rA9. It shouldn’t forestall the entire investigation.”

“It’s not about that,” said Connor, and he almost sounded impatient.

They found Hank in driveway, munching on a donut and chatting with the officer on duty. Connor approached, his hands clenched at his side. “Excuse me, Officer Miller,” he said. “I need a moment with the Lieutenant.”

Miller shrugged. “Knock yourself out. You want me to take the – who is this?” he asked, gesturing at Markus, who angled his head down below the brim of the hat. He knew Miller, of course. There was little chance he wouldn’t recognize Markus if he took a half decent look at him. First and only time they’d met before had been down the barrel of a gun. That’s not a face anyone’s likely to forget. “An intern?”

“Family,” said both Hank and Connor simultaneously. They glanced at each other. “My family,” said Hank. “Well, ex-wife’s family. It’s complicated.”

“Didn’t realize it was take-an-in-law-to-work day,” Miller chuckled. “Though it explains why Connor’s here keeping you out of trouble. You don’t have to do what he says anymore,” he said, patting Connor on the shoulder. “Friendly advice? Stay out of the family shit. Especially with in-laws. It’s a mess.”

Connor nodded, frowning. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Miller passed Markus with a friendly nod. Markus returned it, angling his shoulder to further obstruct his face. Connor neither moved nor spoke until Miller entered the house. Hank let out a breath. “I’m too fucking old for this. Alright, gimme what you found.”

“It doesn’t make sense, Hank,” said Connor, crossing his arms. “It’s completely random. Three high priced items were taken, but far more valuable pieces were left behind. The toaster had a fair market value of $10 and little scrap potential. The thief also took a single sock.”

“So what’s your conclusion?”

Connor frowned, shaking his head as he thought. “The theft wasn’t out of necessity. It did this to make a point.”

“It?”

“I see evidence of only one thief.”

“And everything they took could be carried out by one android?” Hank raised his eyebrow. To Markus, it appeared obvious that he had his own ideas on the case, but he let Connor work his way through it. Like he was teaching the android how to do the job it was programmed to do.

Connor’s frown deepened, and he looked back at the house. “The television alone would have required two hands. They would have had to make multiple trips back inside.” He looked down the length of the driveway. “At least two trips inside,” he amended after a moment.

“For a toaster and one sock,” Markus said, shaking his head.

“A dinosaur sock,” offered Hank, ruffling around in his jacket pocket. “And a Baltimore Ravens jersey, the traitor.” He pulled a thin piece of material out of his pocket and held it up. It unfurled with a bounce. A dinosaur sock.

Connor started, thunderstruck. He reached out with both hands, fingers hovering over it but not touching, as if he didn’t believe it was in front of him. “How…?”

“I was poking around the wine cellar – oh, they have a wine cellar, by the way,” said Hank, taking Connor’s wrist and placing the sock in his hand. “Through an honest to god trap door in the kitchen. All the shit that’s missing was in the barrels down there. They didn’t actually take a damn thing.” Hank walked back towards the house, pausing when Connor didn’t follow. “Listen, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I need you to identify a body,” he said, miming licking his fingers. “Unless it shoved a really rotten mannequin in a vat of whiskey, I’m pretty sure it killed the homeowner.”

 

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

Watching Connor identify a body from its remaining fluids proved to be an…interesting experience. Down in the dark but secluded wine cellar, Markus at last removed the sunglasses and so was treated to this unique method of fluid analysis with no obstruction. Markus was not programmed to feel disgust, and even after deviating it was a foreign concept to him. Yet he wrinkled his nose when Connor pulled the sopping wet head out of the wine by its thin hair, stuck his hand down the dead man’s throat, and placed those fingers delicately on his own tongue.

Though Hank moaned the entire way into the house, through the kitchen, and behind the honest to god hidden doorway to the wine cellar, he still managed to make a big fuss. Feigning a gagging sound - or possibly not feigning, it was hard to tell - Hank threw a handkerchief at Connor, ordering him to wipe his fingers.

“I feel I should remind you that as of twenty-nine days ago, I am no longer obligated to follow any humans’ orders,” Connor said wryly, holding the handkerchief like it was a bomb.

“Just wipe them off for the love of god,” begged Hank.

Connor obliged, his mouth twitching up into a smile. “I was under the impression that you had an existential crisis over androids believing in god, Lieutenant,” he said. “Am I to understand that you’ve overcome this philosophical obstacle?” He held the tissue out to Hank.

Hank snorted, swatting it away. “I’m having an indigestion crisis over androids sticking things they shouldn’t in their mouths. But any time you feel like believing in god, let me know so I can ‘react appropriately,’” he added with a fairly terrible impression of his android partner.

Connor glanced at Markus, his eyes still warm. “I’ll keep you posted.” His LED flashed yellow and he blinked. “Analysis complete. The deceased is the Honorable Eric L. Clay, human male, age 90 years old, time of death approximately 1:15 am. Retired in 2029 at the age of eighty-one from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. His blood alcohol level was .05% at the time of death and carried traces of diphenhydramine and…copper.”

Hank raised his eyebrow. “So he had a glass of wine and a Benadryl and then chowed down on metal?”

“Humans are unpredictable,” Connor shrugged. “And blood absorbs more relatively exotic material than you might think. I have previously detected traces of mercury, iodine, and plastic in your system, Lieutenant, though I have no doubt you didn’t ‘chow down’ on any of those substances.”

Hank blinked, aghast, but Connor was already across the cellar, fingers running over the doorframe. “There is no sign of a struggle.”

“When the hell did you check my blood?” he roared.

“It was your saliva, and he was unconscious when he was brought down here,” Connor continued as if Hank wasn’t standing in his face. “He was likely already deceased or very near it.”

“When the fuck – “ Hank spun around to face Markus. “ – this isn’t what it sounds like!

“We share a house, Lieutenant, and you don’t clean your dishes.” He stepped onto the narrow stairwell, bending down to touch the third stair.

“Fucking Cyberlife,” Hank grumbled. “This is a serious invasion of privacy - the one fucking time I’d like to file a goddamn complaint there’s no one to complain to.”

“Markus and I can hear you just fine,” said Connor, rising. “The victim was a dead weight, and the thief struggled with him.”

“Why go to all this trouble if it didn’t intend to take anything?” asked Markus. He realized how generally unhelpful his presence was, but he found the investigation morbidly fascinating, on top of his concern as leader of the free androids.

“Maybe it did, but got spooked by the owner,” offered Hank, still side-eying his partner, but Connor frowned. “Except that, given the alcohol and diphenhydramine, the victim was likely asleep at the time of the break in. With no other signs of struggle that I’ve noticed,” he added, the obvious inference that if Connor hadn’t notice it, it didn’t exist, “the victim would have been wholly unaware. When would he have had time to ‘spook’ a burglar if he was asleep?”

Hank and Connor shared a look. “I swear to god if the android is still here, I’m turning in my badge. Or your badge,” he amended. “This shit never happened until you came along.”

“I don’t have a badge,” said Connor. “And if the android is here, it’s not hiding. This all seems deliberate, if illogical.”

“You said it wanted to send a message,” said Markus. Both Hank and Connor looked at him. “Maybe it staged a break in to draw in the police, and planted a body to keep homicide detectives involved. It wrote ‘rA9’ in the crown molding, but in such a way that no casual viewer would find it.” He spread out his hands in a shrug. “Maybe the message is for you.”

The playful energy – as playful as being in a dark room with a murdered man stewing in fermented grape juice allowed for – evaporated. Connor froze completely, and Hank seemed to grow larger as he straightened.

“There are easier ways to send a message,” frowned Hank.

“Yes there are,” said Connor. He’d closed off, the only movement on his entire person the erratic blue of his LED. “I need to return to the station and question Captain Fowler on how they learned the culprit was an android.” Any warmth gained over the course of the morning lost once again to frigid stoicism, and he turned on his heel and ascended the narrow staircase to the kitchen.

Markus moved to follow, but Hank casually blocked the doorway. He didn’t register as a threat, but he did register as too damn heavy to move without significant effort. Markus raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t send the message, Lieutenant Anderson.”

“No,” Hank nodded, and the agreement felt cold. “But it’s because of you he’s in this whole fucking mess.” Markus crossed his arms, genuinely affronted, but Hank wasn’t dissuaded. “Look, I support your whole schtick, I do, and I know he’s got you to thank for getting Cyberlife out of his ass,” he added, nodding up the stairs. Connor was well out of sight, and probably out of the house. Markus had a distinct image of him sitting in the passenger seat of the car, rigid and unblinking, staring forward at nothing. “But he hasn’t been right since Hart Plaza. This,” he said, gesturing at the wine cellar and everything it represented, “isn’t helping, and neither are you.”

Me?”

“He’s acting weird as shit around you,” Hank shrugged helplessly. “Maybe you’re used to it, but I’m not. He stopped being like this, he isn’t usually so…” he shook his head, trailing off, having found the right word but not wanting to say it.

So Markus did. “Robotic.”

Hank sighed, scrubbing his eyes with his hand. “Not since the beginning. He grew out of it.” He finally stepped aside. Where before he’d been imposing, now he simply looked tired. “Figure your shit out. Cos there’s no way this ain’t linked to you, it’s all too convenient. I’d rather him and me not become collateral damage. Alright?”

Hank didn’t wait for an answer, and Markus suspected he didn’t expect one, either. He’d needed to say his piece, and he had, and now he trudged up the stairs. After a moment, Markus followed. They found Connor in the car, rigid and unblinking in the passenger seat. Hank pulled out onto the street with a screech of tires. Markus barely glanced at Carl’s house as they flew by it. In the thirty-two minutes of the drive back into the city, there was total silence.

Hank was right: the sudden meeting with Kamski, an android thief drawing out Connor on Hank Anderson’s first day back after a suspension, and the Senate subcommittee’s impending arrival were too near each other to be anything less than convenient. He may not be as analytical as Connor or perceptive as Hank, but Markus could see a pattern when it seemed emblazoned in red neon on a silver platter.

It only got brighter when North met him outside the camp with a stormcloud brewing over her brow, not even sparing a disdainful glance at the human – Hank – and a distrustful glance at Connor before the car peeled away towards the police station. He couldn’t see anyone else in the camp, but could feel their tension.

“Congress sent word, they want industry representation at the summit.” Her jaw clenched, and Markus could hear her teeth grinding against each other. “They say they can’t make a determination on our intelligence without experts,” she spat.

Markus’ mind raced through dead judges and Hank’s warning, trying to piece together these threads. “They’re not going to run any tests,” he said, point blank. “I made that very clear. If they want some scientists to sit and watch us talk, so be it. It can only help us.”

Industry means Cyberlife, Markus.”

He stared at her, his mind momentarily blank, before his processors supplied a single observation:

Fuck.”

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

In the first few days of their hard won freedom, Markus had sought out this refuge. An abandoned building with a view of much of the city, but most importantly, the camp. Up here, he could watch his people while managing to steal a few moments of peace.

But it got cold out there on the abandoned ledge.He found it odd that they felt the cold. He understood the logic of it, of course: extreme temperatures in either direction were as deadly to androids as they were to humans, perhaps even more so. Unlike humans, the cold didn’t worm its way into his appendages and creep down to his core. He felt the drop in his body temperature all at once as his regulator pumped faster to compensate for the loss of heat. It was the same in hot temperatures, only then everything moved suddenly slower. He preferred the cold, if he had to choose. The experience wasn’t unique to him. He’d seen others avoid general snowfall or bundle up. He’d even witnessed the unflappable Connor, who he’d seen take a bullet to the torso without so much as a glance, hugging his chest against the cold as they loaded the truck at Kamski’s. Their systems were, while resilient to some trauma, incredibly delicate in the face of others. A study in contrasts.

Of course, Leo used to half-joke about tossing Markus into the river to short circuit him, which was clearly foolish. Water didn’t harm them anymore than it harmed humans. Cyberlife had taken great pains to waterproof every facet of them because of that fear, though whenever Markus had come in out of the rain, Leo sniped about tossing him into a bag of rice.

Markus had suggested a towel.

Carl got a kick out of it, those quiet, subtle moments of rebellion. Not for the first time, Markus wished deviancy had happened to him like it’d done for so many others: a gentle hand on his arm, an intimate mental connection, and a quiet wake up. Impossible, he knew, without a literal guiding hand who’d endured the requisite trauma – the fear, anger, and frustration – but Markus wished, selfishly, that it hadn’t needed to be him.

But it had to be him. He’d balanced them out. It couldn’t have been Josh, too defensive, or North, too aggressive, or even Simon, who like so many of the others always wanted to run. It couldn’t have been Connor, too enslaved to the mission, or any of the more recent models, too new to the world to understand how to work with it. It had to be him because he’d been able to think for himself, and to talk back to Leo with no fear of reprisals. To be nurtured and cared for and allowed to grow as a person. Like Lucy had said, he’d had it all. Except real freedom.

The others never had that. Well, Connor did now, with Hank. And come to think of it, the only other android he could think of with enough wisdom and maturity to lead had also been accompanying a human: that android Kara. Humans made them better, just like humans made each other better.

That’s what he believed, at least. He didn’t have the experiences of North or any of the thousands of others who hadn’t been nearly as lucky. He’d been made to be unique and loved, not mass produced to serve. He thought of the 420 model from his first day at Jericho, whose name he never learned, tortured by a bunch of sadists going for a joyride. Of every broken carcass in the pit, begging for life in the midst of hell.

There needed to be a balance. Until someone more qualified came along, that balance would have to be Markus.

“What is it with you and heights?”

He turned, North hovering in the doorway. She’d bundled up, he noticed, though she always managed to look more comfortable in human clothes than any other android he’d met. She may hate them, but he thought she passed as one better than the rest.

He offered a smile, tinged with the melancholy he only allowed her to see. “No piano out here,” he said as she picked her way carefully to his side, careful to avoid the ledge. “You’re afraid of heights?” he asked with an unbidden chuckle.

“I’m not,” she snapped with a petulant glower. “But I’m not stupid. This wind picks up it’ll blow your hat away, and then you.”

The hat. He forgot he was wearing it. He pulled it off.

“Never pegged you for a Gears fan.”

“I’m only slightly aware that it’s the baseball team,” he smiled, shoving it into his pocket so it didn’t blow away, because she was right, the wind had picked up.

“Basketball,” she rolled her eyes, but smiled, the dark cloud over her brow receding. Mission accomplished. “I sent a message to your deviant hunter,” she said.

“Is he coming?”

She shook her head. “He said not to involve him in any planning, and I actually agree with him.”

“North.”

“Even he doesn’t trust himself, Markus. You’re the only one bullheaded enough to ignore that.”

He nodded, and shrugged, and gently pushed a stray bit of hair out of her face. “Maybe,” he allowed.

“Definitely,” she sighed, but took his arm and leaned against him, looking out over the camp. Physical affection. Androids didn’t seem too keen on it, or at least understanding of it, which Markus thought a real shame. To him, it’d always been comfort, either carrying Carl to and from the bathroom, a warm hand on his shoulder as he guided the chair down the stairs, or the fond pat on his cheek as he put the old man to bed.

To North, it had only ever meant pain. Pain which Markus had seen and felt through her, of a kind he could scarcely fathom. No wonder she hated them, he thought, and distrusted everyone else.

He laced his fingers through hers. “I knew it was basketball.”

“Whatever.” He felt her chuckle against his arm. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Are you?”

“No,” she said, and led him towards the door and back to his duty. “If I shoot him, you have to help me hide the body.”

“I have to?”

“That’s what friends do, Markus. They help each other.”

“I must’ve missed the part where that applied to hiding the bodies of FBI agents.”

Or at least, FBI agent. No Congressional delegation would even piss anywhere without a highly specialized security team scoping the place out first. Word was, Congress had finalized a contract with Cyberlife for androids to do this sort of work, but then the rebellion upended the world. Markus almost regretted it, if only because Cyberlife would’ve undoubtedly sent someone like Connor, rather than Congress’ Special Agent in Charge, Perkins. That cocksucker.

Markus hadn’t seen the so-called Jackal since the Battle of Detroit. Markus didn’t trust him, but couldn’t say how he was untrustworthy, aside from ‘a human working for the government that oppressed us.’ North would’ve shot him point blank, right then and there. This is why Markus had wished that Connor stood on his left. He needed balance, instead of being able to provide it. His more generous nature stood in stark contrast to North’s burning fire. They needed someone cold to assess the situation, to see where they should trust and where they should push back.

For a half second on the battlefield in November, he’d almost taken the deal. God knows he’d never tell a soul about that moment of weakness.

“You look the same, Markus,” said Perkins, coffee in hand as a team of trained agent fanned out behind him. Markus’ own men, custodians and gardeners, patrolled the gate overhead, fingers trained on the trigger. A small gaggle of press had set up camp behind his sleek black town car, taking photos of the backs of their heads. Vultures, the lot of them. They wanted something, it didn’t matter what. They’d find a way to spin it anti-android the second that made for better ratings. “Though I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? You all don’t change.” Perkins didn’t offer his hand.

Markus didn’t either. “You look…” Smug. “Tired. They should keep you in Washington, instead of sending you running back and forth.”

“I fucking wish,” said Perkins, with a decidedly unfriendly smile. “But we don’t get what we want, do we?”

Markus raised an eyebrow. “Depends on who you are and what you want, I suppose.” The cameras clicked and speaker static sounded as one of the press increased the range of their microphones in a desperate bid to catch more than a snippet of conversation. Markus needed them, now more than ever, so he smiled as well, and said in a clear voice, “Like justice. Or a people seeking freedom and equal rights under the law.”

“Christ, if they’d given you a morning show we wouldn’t be in this mess,” snorted Perkins, rolling his eyes.

“Let’s finish this so I don’t have to look at his face anymore,” North muttered from his side. She avoided the cameras at all cost, shielding herself in Markus’ shadow.

Markus had made concessions for this visit, but only some. While he understood the Senate’s concern for their well-being, he wasn’t about to let even a small contingent of security personnel tour their refuge and catalogue every aspect of their fortifications and numbers. Besides, the androids may have expanded to take up the entire block, but the meat of the camp had been built by the National Guard. If they didn’t know their own handiwork, they had no business acting as security.

All in all, the meeting lasted maybe fifteen minutes, and they didn’t pass through the gate. It could’ve been completed on the phone or via video conference, but Markus supposed there was no spectacle in that. The people – all of them – needed to see that this was happening. That talks were coming, whether they wanted them or not, and that both sides could agree on at least something.

What they agreed on was to allow members of the Detroit police SWAT team stationed in and around the camp in the days leading up to the summit. They wouldn’t leave any android with a member of the United States Army, but they’d trust the DPD as a relatively neutral party. They wouldn’t allow them all to be armed, of course. Connor, when asked (over his protests) about his experiences with the DPD, had stated that Captain Allen was “disciplined, though considerably prejudiced.” It was the best they could do.

Perkins didn’t push him on it, thankfully. Likely because the United States had access to airpower and a trained military, where Markus had a few thousand traumatized refugees. If push came to shove, which Markus knew the government would prefer, the androids would lose. All he had on his side was the powerful, but fickle, support of the press and the American people.

In short, this summit was his to fuck up. If the United States had to lose a few fat cat Congressmen to win back their way of life, so be it.

What was it Kamski said? Revolutions are fragile. Like a tapestry caught on a nail, kept from unraveling by a pair of shaking hands. Metaphorically. Markus’ hands didn’t shake.

“Where’s your other friend?” asked Perkins, halfway to his car but unable to resist a final twist of the knife. “The one that led us to Jericho. I never got to thank it.”

It was meant to provoke a reaction, which it did in North. She clenched her fist and started forward, but Markus got ahead of her. He calmly stepped into Perkins’ space, arms confidently and unthreateningly down at his side.

“We are a united front, Agent Perkins,” he said, the edge that swayed the hearts of millions creeping into his voice. The news media clamored against the cordon, desperate to catch a single word. Call it a balance, call it a virus, or even a fluke, but the reason Markus had been so successful was due to a metric shit ton of good old-fashioned charisma. “We know our people, and our people know us. We’re free of our past and it does not define who we are now.”

Perkins held up his hands in surrender. “It’s almost inspiring how trusting you androids are. If one of my people posed as me and betrayed my cause, I’d be pissed.”

“What are you talking about?” said North before Markus could stop her. This was all provocation, and Markus didn’t miss the distant sound of a Channel 16 camera lens zooming in on their position.

For his part, Perkins looked like the king of Detroit, his hands in his pockets and his smile obvious from ten yards away. “That’s how we found you. One of the detectives found it interrogating one of the dead androids in the basement by impersonating your fearless leader. I believe its last words were, ‘don’t leave me again, Markus.’ Or something like that, hard to hear with one of your people’s hands in its chest.”

It wasn’t North that moved this time, but Markus. He wrenched Perkins in by his coat collar so they were mere inches apart. Perkins’ breath smelled like a hot dog stand. His heart rate was erratic and his pupils dilated with fear. If Markus wanted to, he could crush him.

Damn the sudden whir of a dozen cameras and the click of eleven safeties as guns were drawn. The android guards at the gates raised their weapons. It would all be over in an instant, hanging by a thread on Markus’ grief and guilt. He needed control, thought of a quiet morning over an easel, fingers stained with paint. Thought of Simon’s blood on his coat as he tripped up the stairs and blood on his hands as Markus passed him the gun. There’s always a choice.

“Which android?” Markus growled, so quietly even North leaned in to hear.

Perkins looked between his eyes, face going through a catalogue of microexpressions before settling on the one it was clearly most accustomed to: Smug.

“The one you left at Stratford Tower.”

Chapter Text

C O N N O R

There was a park in Detroit where a delicate bridge wound over a narrow creek. Even in winter, the trees stubbornly held onto their leaves and resisted all attempts by rain, wind, or snow to shake them loose. At the feet of an American attempt at Japanese-inspired architecture sat a little pool, the water frozen over. Beneath the uneven ice of the little pool, the blue LEDs of five white and gold striped koi and six black and orange koi swam.

89.3% of this park was a mechanical construction meant to emulate life. Hank stood in its center, telling off a drunk for pissing in the artificial creek.

Hank yelped, and it broke Connor from the overwhelmed glitch of his software. The drunk hurled her knapsack at the detective’s face and bolted for the street. In a few short paces Connor accosted her, took her bony wrist in his thin hand, and snapped.

There was a little wooden rowboat, covered in snow, frozen into the crystal clear water of the creek.

“Hello, Connor.”

He spun around in a millisecond, LED flashing red, jerking the woman’s wrist with his movement. He didn’t hear her protest. He only heard - “Earth to Connor.” Hank. It had been Hank who spoke before, and Hank who stood before him now, waving his hands back and forth to get Connor’s attention. “You there? Or do I need to break out an oil can?”

Connor blinked at him, and nodded. “I’m here.” In a park, with Hank, and an increasingly desperate woman with a shattered wrist trapped in his iron grip. He let go. She hurried over to Hank, muttering about “fucking androids.”

“Uh-huh,” said Hank, one hand on her shoulder and the other digging into his pocket for his phone. He dialed – 9 - 1 - 1 – and launched into an exasperated “Yeah, it’s Detective Anderson, I need an ambulance. No, not for me. I’m fine, by the way, thanks so much for asking.” He held the phone between his shoulder and cheek and maneuvered the woman towards the street. “You,” he said to the drunk, “one foot in front of the other, let’s go. You,” he said, pointing at Connor with a firm look, “don’t move.”

Connor didn’t. For thirty seconds. When Hank returned fifteen minutes later with a burrito and a giant Dr. Pepper, he found Connor standing at the street with his back to the park. Hank didn’t even comment on Connor’s characteristic disobedience. He slumped down on the bus stop bench and chowed down. “Why’d you go all blue screen of death back there?”

“I was momentarily disoriented,” Connor frowned, vaguely familiar with the expression even if it wasn’t accurate. “I was simply reminded of somewhere else.” Connor inclined his head, eyeing the burrito with a slight cock of his eyebrow. It contained 765 calories, 25 grams of fat, 71 grams of carbohydrates, 41mg of sodium, and the thorax of Camponotus spp., a winged carpenter ant. 2 grams of protein.

“What? You assholes ran all the good food trucks out of town. I had to improvise.”

“A potential boon for your cholesterol.”

“Fuck off.”

For rush hour on a Thursday, the city was quiet. Many humans evacuated the city in the wake of the Battle of Detroit. The National Guard had stopped patrolling only a week prior, though looting continued. Everyone who was left at the DPD was pulling double shifts.

Or so Connor understood. He hadn’t been back to the station since the revolt. With Hank suspended and his own status questionable, there was no need. Now, with things settling down and returning to some semblance of normalcy, Connor realized that maybe returning to the station was a bad idea. Not because he’d beat up Gavin in the evidence locker. That had been a good idea.

The only reason Connor’d been there in the first place was because Cyberlife sent him. With no connection to Cyberlife, he no longer had a connection to the police force. If they returned, he didn’t doubt Fowler would make that official.

“The sun will set in one hour and 4 minutes,” Connor said. “The temperature will drop to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Given the current slickness of the road, the driving conditions will be unsafe after dark. We should head home.”

Hank made a face, as if considering, and then nodded, standing. “Nah,” he said, and as Connor tried to reconcile the disparate tone and body language, Hank tossed his wrapper into the garbage can. “I gotta talk to Fowler.” He clapped Connor on the shoulder and sidled down the street to his car.

“In any case,” Connor pressed after him. “It is late, and he will likely have returned home.”

Hank raised an eyebrow, sliding into the driver’s seat. Connor’s finger twitched, an involuntary reaction to his own impatience, and opened the passenger side door with more force than was strictly necessary. He shut it gingerly behind him as Hank tapped in the traffic information from the park to the station in his nav app.

“His family skipped town without him and he won’t see them til Christmas,” said Hank, with a frustratingly patient smile. “If the wife relents. No one wants to go home to an empty house. He’ll be at the station.” He started the car, but didn’t put it in drive til he pulled on his seat belt. Connor was too preoccupied to savor that small victory.

Connor resisted the urge to grab the keys. “No doubt tired after a long day. We can try again tomorrow.”

“We could, but tonight works better for me.” Hank looked over his shoulder as he reversed out of their spot and cruised onto the road, going a breezy 35mph in a 25 mph zone that he would typically take at 53mph. “Don’t you want to get to work on the investigation?”

“No,” Connor said, loud, and it echoed in the cramped car.

Hank, the smug bastard, simply tapped the steering wheel as he pulled into an intersection. “Well, maybe I do.”

Connor could see the route to the station as clear as if it were laid out as a map in front of him. He was running out of time. “Lieutenant – “

“He’s gonna let you stay on,” said Hank, and Connor stalled momentarily at the abrupt change in topic. “We’re down half our manpower and all the people who actually did shit were androids, and they’re all gone, so...yeah.” He looked at Connor, his eyes off of the road for 7.2 seconds, which was 5 seconds longer than recommended in the 2026 Department of Transportation Standards for American Drivers. “No one’ll give a shit if you don’t have a badge. He’s not gonna get rid of you.”

“I…” said Connor, thinking of how to finish that sentence, and coming up with nothing better than, “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Hank didn’t turn on the radio or switch on one of his ‘driving albums.’ The only sounds were the crunch of snow and ice – unsafe driving conditions – under Hank’s depreciated tires and the gurgle of the car’s neglected engine. Hank turned down the street to the station, still relatively within the speed limit. “So, you wanna tell me why you want to play cops and robbers instead of revolution with your pal, Markus?” Hank asked after a moment, managing to look superior while actively keeping his eyes on the road. “Or are we gonna pretend you’re not being weird about that, too?”

There were a few ways he could play this, Connor reasoned. He could tell Hank the truth – that he trusted neither himself nor his supposed deviancy anywhere near Markus and the rebellion, and that he feared every nanosecond of every day that his mind would be hijacked again, and he’d be helpless, desperate, crushed under that terrible loss of control as Cyberlife destroyed everything he cared about…but that involved emotions and Connor was rapidly learning why most humans bottled them up.

Another equally true but somewhat less damning option was to admit his overwhelming guilt over hunting deviants and exposing Jericho, but that would involve uncomfortable conversations about deviancy which would likely lead back to the first problem.

He could sidestep with a partial-truth, and say either that when he closed his eyes he saw his own image hold the lieutenant at gunpoint and that he’d prefer watching Hank’s back at all times to avoid that scenario again. Or that what he feared was that on opening them he’d see Amanda again. Or that the thought of functioning without a purpose kept him, metaphorically, up at night. He could lie and say nothing was wrong, but Hank would see through that bullshit.

Or he could be blunt. “No,” he said. Blunt it was. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I had a six year old,” said Hank, the car’s speed creeping up to 46 mph. “You can’t out-pout me. I’m immune to pouts.”

“I’m not pouting,” said Connor, looking out his window with what was most assuredly not a pout. If he had to categorize it, he’d call it a scowl.

“You guys get into a fight during your sleepover or something?”

“Hank,” he said, after a 3.1 second pause in which he scoured through twenty thousand, three hundred and twelve files for the definition, context, and referential treatment of ‘sleepover’ to the millennial generation. The most common phrases were ‘children,’ ‘to belittle,’ and ‘snor(ing).’

“Fine,” Hank relented, though it hardly felt like a victory. He took a hard right turn into the police station’s parking lot. It was deserted of all vehicles save squad cars. Connor felt a surge of triumph. Fowler always drove to work and his car was not present. “His wife took it when she left,” said Hank as he switched off the engine. He fixed Connor with a grin as he unbuckled his seat belt. “So Fowler’s been taking the bus.” His knees groaned as he rose out of the driver’s seat, but the smugness radiated off him in waves before he slammed the door.

“Shit.” Connor followed him into the station.

Fluorescent lights were disorienting to the delicate senses of humans. They bathed the workspace in a harsh, unforgiving light. Their almost inaudible buzz worked its way into their subconscious, giving them headaches and light and sound sensitivity. It disrupted their biological clocks and interfered with their sleep cycles. Officer Wilson had confessed to Connor that Hank had once come into work, still drunk, and threw a paperweight at the light directly over his desk. He’d been billed for the damage and disciplined for it.

To Connor, fluorescent lighting and its accompanying buzz was familiar. If he had to choose a word for it, he might even call it ‘comfortable.’ He’d been activated in a facility so sterile and stark that, to him, the muted yellow of 40 watt light bulbs seemed almost an insult to proper lighting. Even Hank’s house was too quiet, until the radiator kicked on or the dishwasher gasped to life. Many times while Hank slept, Connor passed the night reviewing files or worlds news, seated on the cold vinyl floor of the kitchen, the refrigerator buzzing against his back. Cyberlife had never been home, per say, but it’d been all he knew. With so much of his life unfamiliar and uncertain, that small bit of comfort went a long way.

Plus, Hank’s bewildered face when he found him on the floor every morning made it worth it.

Hank hadn’t taken two steps into the bullpen before a chair screeched back to block his path. “Well, well,” came the voice of Detective Reed. “You look marginally less shit than last time I saw you. I had ten bucks on you drinking yourself to death.”

“Guess you lost your life savings, then,” Hank smiled. “But look at you,” he added, taking a step back. “Your shoulder looks almost ready to come out of that sling, and honestly, your nose looks better this way.”

Gavin grit his teeth, and Connor chose that moment to make his entrance. Gavin all but snarled, and Connor smiled politely. “Good evening, Gavin,” he said, and he could tell from Hank’s expression that his politeness looked decidedly smug. “You’re looking 71% recovered.” He gave him a thumbs up. “Almost there.” Hank roared a laugh.

“You son of a bitch,” Gavin hissed, but sat back down in his chair, defeated, hunching over his terminal with a constant stream of profanity that Connor muted from his auditory input. He preferred listening to Hank laugh.

“Did I tell you that shit was caught on CCTV?” Hank chuckled, passing his desk with a fond look. Hank had told him. In fact, Hank had shown him the bootlegged recording Miller had taken of Connor laying into Gavin in the evidence room. Wilson had suggested putting music to it. “You straightened your tie.” He walked up the steps to Fowler’s office and wrapped on the glass door. “Legendary.”

Connor glanced out over the bullpen and saw Gavin shooting daggers at them with his eyes. “I suppose retrospectively it was…cathartic.”

“Damn right.” The door unlocked and Connor followed Hank in. Fowler looked between the two of them and sighed. Connor felt his chest tighten and registered the feeling as dread. Hank held out his arms. “I’m sorry I punched an FBI agent in your lobby.”

“No you’re not,” said Fowler. “You’re lucky he didn’t press charges.” He turned his glare on Connor. “Same to you. Reed was pissed but there’s no criminal code for androids yet, lucky you. Better hope your revolution doesn’t get the ball rolling before the statute of limitations on assault is up.” Fowler, having sufficiently chastised them, sat back and folded his hands over his gut. “So we’ve got a dead judge.”

“Retired,” supplied Connor.

“And an android did it while faking a break in?”

“Looks like,” said Hank.

“Shit,” said Fowler, shaking his head. “Any ideas on why?”

“Working on it. How’d you guys know to call us?”

Fowler frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Our assignment specified that an android broke in to a wealthy man’s home and stole several items,” said Connor. “We wondered how you knew an android had committed the theft. There were no immediately obvious signs of an android’s involvement.”

Fowler looked at him and raised his eyebrow. “I didn’t assign you,” Fowler said. “Hank hadn’t filled in his return paperwork and you’re not technically on the force yet.” Yet. Connor filed that away to be relieved over after they got to the bottom of this. “Miller thought you called it in.”

Hank shot him a look, but Connor shook his head. “I received the alert this morning in the same manner as all of Hank’s assignments when we were hunting deviants. It was earmarked as DPD.”

“I mean, we knew there was a break in, but we didn’t know it was an android til you both reported it.”

Connor finally understood the human expression of ‘his blood ran cold.’ A pit of dread blossomed in his chest, and the world seemed to go on mute around him. It was almost like being pulled back into the park, except his eyes were open. “It was Cyberlife,” he breathed, voice barely audible. “They sent the alert, they masked it as…”

Hank’s hand balled into a fist and he rose, blocking his view of anything else but him. “Are you still…” he trailed off, making some sort of vague hand gesture at his head which Connor took to mean ‘linked with Cyberlife.’

“No,” he said quickly, but that was a lie, wasn’t it? The whole reason he kept Markus and the rebellion at a literal arm’s length. He didn’t believe they were gone. He couldn’t, not after Hart Plaza. “I don’t know – Kamski said it was an emergency exit, but they…” He met Hank’s eyes, saw his own dread mirrored there, mingled with anger. “This is my fault.”

A sharp knock had all three of them turning with a jump. Miller pounded on the other side of the glass door. “There’s been another break in,” he shouted. “Here.” He pointed past Fowler’s office towards the archive room. “Downstairs. It’s Hank’s ex-brother-in-law.”

“Deb has a brother?” frowned Fowler, but both Hank and Connor blanched.

Markus.

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

 

When Markus told her they were breaking into the DPD Central Station, North lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree. She managed to temper her enthusiasm for Markus’ sake, which he appreciated, but he hadn’t seen her this genuinely happy since November 11. He wished it were under different circumstances.

They’d planned Stratford Tower down to the most finite detail, but his only plan for the station was, to put it bluntly, winging it. They paused long enough to change into inconspicuous clothes – dark hoodies, Hank’s baseball cap and sunglasses from earlier – and to unload a truck. His only goal was to get to the archives room as fast as possible. Wherever the hell that was in the building was anyone’s guess, but he’d figure out the details later.

In a relatively small camp of several thousand androids, conditions were cramped at best. Most androids didn’t care, as they were used to being boxed up or stored in tight spaces, and this way they were all together, but it meant that secrets tended not to last. The notoriously pacifist Markus manhandling the FBI agent who’d overseen so much of their suffering spread like wildfire.

“Ginger Traci wants to come with us because she hates the police,” North announced as she tossed a bag of far too many high-powered weapons in the back seat, in a tone one could only describe as ‘utmost respect.’

The ginger-haired Traci, formerly of the Eden Club, stood in combat boots and a leather jacket, a beanie over her hair and a gun slung around her shoulder. “I’m a good fighter,” she said. “Ask RK800.”

Markus realized, suddenly, that he’d been about to embark on a military op. This is why he needed Simon, and needed Josh. North was all about diving head first into danger. With no one else to temper that, and with his emotions sky high, Markus just went for it.

Thank god, then, for the Blue-Haired Traci. She appeared in slightly less militaristic gear, dragging an ST300 by the hand. She spared a scowl for Ginger but came straight for Markus.

“This is Emily,” said Blue, maneuvering the ST300 in front of her. The ST300, Emily, politely waved. “She worked at DPD Central. She knows the layout of the station and the best way to get where you need to be. You can’t just barge in. Someone’ll get hurt,” she added, glaring at Ginger.

Markus looked at North, who begrudgingly shrugged. “Right,” he said. He was too close to this, it was too personal and he was putting people in danger. He turned to Emily. “Would you be able to guide me to the archives room?”

“Yes,” she answered, polite as any other customer service android. She took his arm and they connected, the schematics of the building uploading into his memory. “But at this time of evening, the bullpen will be at half occupancy,” she continued. “There will be less foot traffic, but those officers in the station will be largely milling around, waiting for their shifts to end.”

“What does that mean?” asked North.

“It means they’ll be looking for any excuse to avoid their paperwork, and thus will investigate anything out of the ordinary in the station. Detective Reed once ordered a full forensics on the mini-fridge when it started leaking at 6 pm.”

Carl’s voice crystal clear in his head scoffed there’s your tax dollars at work. “So we need to give them something else to focus on,” said Markus. “Something that’ll distract the majority of them away from their desks.”

“Leave that to us,” said Blue. “We have some feedback from the Eden Club we can upload onto one of their computers.”

“Miller’s,” said Emily. “His is furthest from the archives, and he is very popular. They will enjoy laughing at him. The archives are locked by a keycard and then a password protected terminal. Swipe the keycard from either Anderson’s or Chen’s desks, they always leave it out. Once you’re in, bypass Anderson’s coded entry with the admin access code I’m sending you now. The deviant investigation is case number 11538-CO-400, evidence container 01.”

Markus shut his eyes, the floorplan of the station laid out in a grid before him. Emily took his hand again and identified the desk in question. He nodded. “I’ll go in and say I’m waiting for Hank Anderson, Connor’s partner. He told them this morning I was a brother-in-law so it won’t be too much of a surprise, as long as they don’t look too closely. As soon as I finish talking, While they’re distracted, I’ll slip in and head to the evidence locker.”

“Why not just sneak in and avoid talking to them altogether?” asked Blue.

“No, I want them to know I’m there,” he said. North and Ginger perked up at the prospect, but he shook his head. “I want them to send Connor. After I’m finished he’ll get me out.”

Confusion clearly showed on their faces. Connor had been at the camp yesterday. He’d been on their side since the revolution. While many of the androids were wary of him, not least of which were the Tracis (though Ginger liked to casually tell the story of her stabbing him with a screwdriver), they knew he was an ally. If Markus needed to be in the DPD evidence locker with Connor, logically he could’ve just asked.

But none of them questioned him. It was a problem, this tendency towards obedience and complaisance, but right now he needed it.

North looked forlornly at the bag of guns in the backseat. “Fine,” she sighed, climbing into the truck. “I’ll be the getaway driver.”

--

Miller’s computer inbox pinged with an incoming message even as he directed Markus to Hank’s desk. Were the circumstances not so dour, Markus would want to know what the subject line said. Something enticing, because by the time Markus reached Anderson’s desk, Miller swore and started clicking and hitting his terminal. The two-way screen was merciless, and every cop that glanced over at his frantic attempts to shut the thing down saw a XXX rated Eden Club highlight reel. Detective Reed was first on the scene, identifiable by the still healing torn rotator cuff and misshapen nose.

- We just sent them another video starring one of their colleagues - came North’s voice in his head, corresponding to a sudden shout and roar of hooting and hollering from the bullpen - You've got ample time. Be careful. -

Markus found Hank’s keycard exactly where Emily said it would be, swiped it, and followed the schematics to the back of the room. As he passed he glanced up into the glass office of the Captain, who sat talking with Hank and Connor. Markus ducked his head, his stress levels rising. He needed to get downstairs before dealing with either of them, but no disguise would work on Connor. Especially since half of this disguise was Hank’s.

He pushed into the backroom and down the stairs, both doors creaking damnably loud as he hurried. The archive room opened up before him, dimly lit and unattended. He held out Hank’s key card, finding the access point, and the door slid open for him. He placed his hand on the terminal and sent Emily’s admin code through to its server.

For a three seconds, nothing happened, and Markus’ system helpfully ran through every worst-case scenario. But after a moment the terminal dinged, and large steel doors slid open.

The backlighting flickered on, and Markus saw the bodies of three androids, hanging on a rack like dolls.

He heard North’s voice in his head but cut off all incoming messages. He made his way to the far corner of the room, his feet heavier with every step. He stopped in front of the last body on the right, still dressed in a Stratford Tower maintenance uniform.

“Oh, Simon.”

Androids didn’t decay, but Markus could tell looking at him that there was no hope of reactivation. Simon looked pale, though it was probably just the lighting. His head hung slack over his chest. Blue blood stained his cheek, smeared from his open mouth, and the gaping hole in his chest exposed his components and lack of regulator.  

Markus reached up, his skin peeling back, and placed a gentle hand on Simon’s face, his other on Simon’s arm. There was nothing; no feedback, no blip of energy. Nothing. His skin was cold and he smelled like an archive. His brow was creased, face frozen in aborted surprise. His unseeing eyes pointed blankly down at Markus, so unlike the cautious, kind look he once wore. This was Markus’ fault.

“The admin access code was redflagged.”

Connor.

Markus’ shoulders stiffened. He removed his hand from Simon’s cold cheek but didn’t step away.

“It sent an alert to the station firewall. It hadn’t yet been deactivated due to lack of personnel.”

Markus looked over his shoulder and in the doorway stood Connor, alone. He raised his hands, palms facing away from his pants, every movement deliberate. “This was foolish, Markus,” he said. The archive room door was shut behind him – locked, Markus’ system informed him.

“They left him in here,” Markus said, voice thick with emotion. He still held Simon’s arm in a loose grip, unwilling to let go. He met Connor’s eyes, accusation written all over his face. Connor met his with what seemed like open sincerity. Everything about him, in that moment, looked safe, from his warm brown eyes to his outstretched hands. Nonthreatening.

Markus glanced back at Simon, hanging from a hook, backlit by harsh fluorescent like a piece of meat in a shop window. “This was weeks ago,” he said, finally letting go of Simon and rounding on Connor, closing half the distance between them in a few strides. “Why did they leave him like this?”

“Jurisdiction became an issue when the FBI took over,” explained Connor, taking a careful step forward. He kept his eyes on Markus and Markus didn’t look away. He projected harmlessness, trustworthiness even. “Then it all got confused in the battle. Hank is the only here who can close the case, now, and he’s been off for the month. No one else got around to it. I’m sorry, Markus,” he added, patient, even sympathetic, and with another step closer. The type of friend anyone would want in a high stress situation. The type of person anyone would trust when they felt overcome with emotions. Connor advanced. Slowly. “I know this must be difficult.”

Fuck. Markus was getting ‘negotiated.’ He could practically hear Connor’s subroutines analyzing his stress levels and likely outcomes. This is what Connor was designed for, even more than investigations. Luring deviants down into a false sense of security and calm so he could capture them. I’ve been ordered to take you alive. What better way to calm Markus down than appeal to his intellect and bore him with bureaucracy. It was the same strategy Connor’d used on Kamski not a day earlier. He’d nearly reached the terminal and Markus hadn’t even realized.

His fists clenched. Connor noticed and must have realized that things had shifted, because he stopped moving, posturing changing. Calculating a new approach.

“Tell me how he died,” Markus demanded.

 “He shot himself when we cornered him on the roof of Stratford Tower.”

“You were there.”

“I tried to stop it.”

“Because you needed to interrogate him.”

 “Yes.” Connor didn’t hesitate, Markus would give him that much. “He was too quick. I had his arm when he fired. I…felt him die.”

“What did you feel?”

Connor’s mouth moved on an aborted thought, his eyes searching Markus’ for a moment as his LED flashed yellow. “He was scared,” said Connor at last, and Markus’ heart broke.

“You brought him back,” he said, closing the distance between them. Connor’s expression would’ve been cold if Markus hadn’t learned to read him. This was the same face Connor’d had on the bridge of Jericho just as he’d stepped off the precipice into deviance, desperately seeking a direction in his program and coming up empty. “You needed information so you reactivated him, and he had to live again, stuck in that moment of fear, while you got what you needed.”

Connor’s silence was answer enough. They were nearly the same height, though Markus still managed to loom over him when he crowded his space. Connor didn’t back down, but Markus hadn’t expected him to. “You tricked him into thinking I was here?”

Connor nodded.

“How?”

“He couldn’t see, so I synthesized your voice from your broadcast. I then asked for the location of Jericho and he provided it.”

“I know where Jericho is,” Markus spat, shaking his head. “Why would he fall for that?”

Connor’s jaw clenched, but he answered, “Reactivated androids aren’t entirely cognizant. They’re only able to grasp basic concepts. They’re easily confused.”

Markus punched him. Hard. No preconstruction necessary. Connor’s head whirled with the force of it, but he used the momentum to turn, slipping past Markus and slamming his hand down on the terminal. The room shut down. Markus turned to see Simon and all the evidence pulled back into storage behind reinforced steel doors. Connor’d been waiting for an opportunity and Markus’ emotions had given it to him.

“You’re an efficient son of a bitch, I’ll give you that,” said Markus.

Connor straightened, jacket askew, but rather than triumphant he simply looked sad. “You can’t stay down here, Markus,” he reasoned. Blue blood trickled from his nose onto his lips and down his chin, dripping onto the pristine white of his shirt collar. He didn’t seem to notice, or care. “Hank has them thinking you’re trying to score red ice. If they figure out who you are, there’ll be chaos.”

“What will they do with him when you close the case?”

“We can release the bodies to you.” Connor’s pause lasted only a second, but Markus heard it. That deal was no sure thing. He wondered if this was another empty promise to deescalate a crisis situation, but he found he needed to hear it anyway. He needed to believe it.

“Markus,” Connor pressed, repeatedly using his name, probably to ground him. All it did was remind Markus of his failures. “We need to go.”

“I didn’t want to leave him behind,” Markus explained, staring at the spot Simon had been, his voice cracking. “I had no choice. We were afraid you’d take his memories. She wanted me to kill him but I couldn’t do it. Even if he told you everything, I couldn’t do it. He was my friend.” He looked back at Connor, who’d managed to get back between him and the door. “He died rather than give you a damn thing. And you stole his sacrifice from him and took it anyway.”

Connor took his arm. His skin peeled back, porcelain cased fingers wrapped over Markus’ sleeve.

A flash of Jericho before his eyes, the cold fear of death, the warmth of hope in the shape of Markus. Simon’s last thoughts.

A blizzard in a frozen garden, a muted purple light underneath a frigid hand, and a mission status screaming Markus in bold red letters. But are you afraid to die, Connor?

Connor snatched his hand away, skin sliding back over his fingers as he balled them into a fist. His emulated breathing was heavy and he gritted his jaw so tightly that Markus could hear it. He didn’t step away, and for the second time in as many months he looked to Markus to decide how to proceed, accepting his judgment without question.

This was trust. Connor had earned it ten times over. This loss, this pain, could be dealt with rationally. “How do we leave?”

Connor’s shoulders slumped a millimeter, and on him that looked like a massive sigh of relief. “I’ve been sending messages to Hank’s phone,” he said, voice steady. He pulled out a pair of large headphones from his belt and held them out to Markus, indicating he put them around his neck. “To obscure your jawline. They’ll all be looking at you. Hank’ll tell them I’ve managed to stop you from stealing, and out of respect for him they won’t press charges because you’re family.”

“Hank’s ex-wife’s brother?” Markus took Hank’s old aviator’s out of his pocket, placing them over his distinctive eyes. They slid down his nose, just as they had that morning. Felt like a goddamn lifetime ago. He thought androids weren’t supposed to feel tired.

Connor nodded. “From Pittsburgh.”

“He got a name?”

“I’m sure Hank’s thought of one. The ex-brother-in-law doesn’t actually exist. Respond to whatever he calls you.”

He pulled the hat over his eyes and pulled his hood up. “North has a car out front.”

“I know,” said Connor, leading him to the door, his hand hovering on his elbow but not touching. “I’ve been in contact with her, too.”

“How’s that going?”

“She gave me two minutes to calm you down.”

“When was this?”

“One minute and forty-five seconds ago. Please send her a message before she storms the station.” Markus reopened his external receiver and shot out a quick message to the barrage of concerned North-Tracis he had incoming.

Markus could hear Hank’s voice through the door at the top of the stairs. Connor was tense at his side, surely a million ways this could go wrong in the half minute or so it’d take to get back outside the station. “This isn’t over,” said Markus. “When we’re in the clear, you and I need to talk. All cards on the table.”

“I don’t have any cards,” said Connor, gripping the door handle. “But we can use Hank’s table.” He pulled open the door, and Markus was faced with five uniformed cops, two detectives, and one police captain.

“Hey, Fuckface.” Hank strode forward and grabbed him, placing him in a headlock, his face conveniently obscured. “Let’s go before I put you in lockup for the constitutionally allowable 48 hours.”

"It's 24 hours, Lieutenant," Connor corrected, trailing after Hank as the detective led Markus out by the scruff of his neck.

"Connor," Hank growled as the station doors slid open. "I swear on my dog's life, you need to shut the fuck up."

 

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

Markus expected them to head back to Hank’s home to keep up the ruse of the ex-wife brother-in-law. When Hank didn’t go in that direction, he then assumed they were just going back to the camp. When Hank pulled up a narrow street and parked haphazardly in front of a place called Jimmy’s Bar, he was confused.

Even Connor seemed confused, pausing in wiping off the dried blue blood on his face to raise his eyebrow. “What are you doing, Hank?” he asked.

Hank put the car in park and switched off the engine. “You two need to work whatever shit is going on out,” he said, gesturing at the air between them. “Best place I’ve ever found to do that is in a bar.”

“We can’t get drunk, Lieutenant,” said Connor. “We don’t drink.”

I do.”

Markus had never been to a human bar. If anything, it’d be an interesting experience. He shot off a message to North, who’d been tailing them in the truck. – I’m going to a bar. Don’t wait up. – to which she replied: – Markus what the fuck – Still, North’s truck drove past the side street, back in the direction of the camp. 

The sign on the door to Jimmy’s Bar read No Androids Allowed, even after the rebellion. Connor, with his LED and Cyberlife duds, strolled in behind Hank like he owned the place, and the bartender nodded at them both. Another dichotomy to file away for analysis. Hank slid onto a well-worn stool and pointed them to the back of the bar. Connor seemed to know where he was going, so Markus followed, even though they ended up right next to the bathrooms.

They stood behind the swinging doors, the smell of uncleaned bathroom stalls seeping into Markus’ nostrils. The large mirror behind them was cracked, with three different For A Good Time Call numbers scratched into the glass, along with various other profanities. Somehow Connor, with his dignified hair and his meticulously pressed suit, with its dull serial number over his breast – #313 248 317-52 – and perfectly tailored hem, fit in here, blue blood on his shirt collar notwithstanding. He seemed at home in the seediest places of the world, comfortable in almost any environment.

“Why do you still wear that?” Markus asked. It wasn’t the most pressing question and certainly not why Hank had relegated them to this back room, but it was the first thing that came to mind.

Connor looked down at his wardrobe. It may no longer glow but it still screamed Cyberlife, both in make and explicit model. Made in Detroit. “I don’t know,” Connor said honestly. “It’s what I’ve always worn.” A creature of habit.

“I’m surprised Anderson hasn’t given you new clothes.”

Connor glanced out over the top of the swinging doors at Hank, hunched over the bar with a glass between his hands. So much for Connor’s embargo on whiskey. “He needs the familiarity,” said Connor. “He struggles with psychological issues stemming from personal loss.” It might have seemed cold and almost flippant said by anyone else, but Connor’s soft expression spoke to the depth of affection underlying his tone. These two people were important to each other, far more than Markus had witnessed. Not for the first time in their presence, he was reminded of him and Carl. Our blood may not be the same color

“Do you want new clothes?”

Connor looked back at him, and Markus thought he seemed a little lost. “I don’t know,” Connor shrugged. “I know I’m supposed to want things now that I’m deviant, but…I don’t know.”

“Free,” Markus corrected gently. “You’re not deviant; you’re free.”

It was meant to comfort, but Connor looked neither convinced nor comforted. Instead, he stood idly in front of Markus, pulling a coin absent-mindedly from his pocket and flicking it between his fingers. A personality quirk or an idle animation. Markus wondered if Connor was even aware he was doing it. Clearly he wasn’t in any hurry to be forthcoming.

Well, Markus had been patient with him, right up until he’d held the cold, dead hand of his dearest friend in an evidence locker. The time for patience was over. There were no rebellions at stake or reputations on the line. He didn’t need to hold it all together and keep his emotions in check in front of a camera. Markus could, for once, be himself, unguarded, and right now, his self was angry.

Markus snatched the coin out of Connor’s hand. His reflexes were quick, but so were Connor’s, who grabbed his wrist before he could retract his hand. They both stared at each other, almost a challenge, but Connor relented, letting go. “You need to tell me what happened,” Markus said.

Connor’s brow furrowed. “I did. He shot himself before – ”

“On the dais,” Markus interrupted. Connor blanched. “At Hart Plaza, after we liberated the camp. What happened?”

Connor didn’t ask how Markus knew something had happened. In the few seconds of silence, Markus could practically see Connor reconstructing the event in his mind and realizing that North had been at the perfect vantage point to see him draw a gun. Still, he didn’t offer an explanation. As Markus had come to learn about Connor, when he felt overwhelmed or unsure of a situation, he simply didn’t respond.

Markus wasn’t interested in silence. “It’s why you won’t help us plan anything,” Markus pressed. “And why you avoid me and won’t let me touch you.” He held out his hand, palm up and skin receding. Connor’s eyes remained fixed on his. “I deserve the truth, Connor,” he insisted. “Trust has to go both ways.”

“I do trust you,” said Connor.

“Then what’s holding you back?”

“Cyberlife,” he answered, honest, and Markus was truly taken aback. “They resumed control of my programming,” he continued, turning his head, staring at his reflection in the mirror. “I couldn’t see what was happening. They had my mind, my body. I was – trapped. I was…” He shook his head, searching for the word, or possibly too hesitant to say it.

“Scared,” realized Markus.

“I would have killed you,” he said, and the matter-of-factness was chilling. “I would have shot you in the back and ended the rebellion without blinking.”

“It wouldn’t have been you,” said Markus, but Connor was already shaking his head, frustrated.

“Yes, it would have, Markus. Everything I’ve done has been obeying some part of my programming whether I knew it or not. They planned for every contingency. If I obeyed, I’d have been successful but they anticipated my failure and had me go deviant. I only regained control because of Kamski, and he seems to have benefitted from this entire state of affairs. Cyberlife has had a hand in all of this, one way or another.”

“They can’t sweep us back up under the rug, Connor, the armistice – “

“They don’t care about the armistice,” Connor dismissed. “Hank’s right. The humans would be relieved at the return of the status quo, even those who are now supportive. They’re averse to change almost as much as androids. Cyberlife knows how to take advantage of that. They’re a trillion dollar company, Markus. They were never going to simply stop. They’ve got a plan, and I know it involves me and the end of your revolution. The only thing I can control right now is staying away.”

“No,” said Markus simply, with such finality that they could only be accepted as truth. “You’re free of them. We all are.” Connor shook his head, LED whirring yellow, ready to interrupt, but Markus wouldn’t let him. “I am not afraid of Cyberlife,” he pressed on. He raised his hand, the skin peeling back from his fingers, his wrist, and up his arm to his neck. “I’m not afraid of their plans or contingencies. They can’t stop what we’ve started.”

He laid his hand in the crook of Connor’s neck, a softer parallel to the first time he gripped Connor’s shoulder and wished him luck on his suicide mission. His fingers felt skin, and if he wanted to he could force a connection right here. But Connor’s eyes, brown and unblinking, staring at him with all the careful hope of every other converted deviant android, told him that wouldn’t be necessary. “They can’t hurt us anymore, Connor. They’ll try, but they’ll fail.”

Connor covered his wrist with his hand. The skin receded, and both their porcelain hands reflected the buzzing fluorescent light of the bathroom. Connor’s hand glowed blue, opening up to a connection, the final step. Markus smiled. “This is what freedom feels like,” he said, blue light radiating from his fingertips as he laid his palm against Connor’s, and they connected.

He saw the android Kara and a little girl through a chainlink fence, the body of an HX400 bleeding out in a jail cell, and Simon’s vacant eyes in the storage locker. He saw nothing, and then a garden. He felt his head snap back as Hank slapped him on a rooftop, and the hallway of Stratford Tower as he shielded Hank from a barrage of gunfire. He saw the two Tracis running from an unfired gun, and Kamski laughing as he helped a blonde android to her feet. Humanity’s last hope is itself a deviant. He saw himself on the bridge of Jericho, felt the crushing guilt and the overwhelming surge of hope as every android in Cyberlife woke up. His name was Cole. He saw a woman in a frozen park, her smile as cold as the relentless snow around her.

Markus opened his eyes, and saw his skinless face reflecting in Connor’s brown eyes. Connor’s LED glowed red against the porcelain white of his own temple, gaze flickering between Markus mismatched eyes. “You’re angry,” Connor said, his grip tight over Markus’ wrist as he parsed through what he’d seen.

Markus’ false breathe passed over his skinless lips. “They put our people in camps,” he said, voice heavy and shaking. Ever since he’d seen the inside of that recall center and turned over the crates to find piles of deactivated androids, he’d avoided this kind of connection. He’d even kept it from North, whose hand he’d held throughout the fighting. She hadn’t pushed him on it. “They can call it what they want, but that was genocide.” He’d seen them in the recall center, seen Kara and a YK500 hugging in a dumping ground outside the city, skinless as Connor and Markus were now, and degraded beyond measure.

Connor’s head tilted as a tear rolled down Markus’ plastic cheek. “You want revenge,” he said.

Markus sighed, and though he felt the weight of the day and his grief, he also felt what could only be classified as relief. Relieved to be saying this out loud, relieved that someone knew that this wasn’t easy, and that he struggled to do the ‘right thing,’ whatever that was. Relieved that he had someone to share this with who understood the burden of duty. Markus rested his heavy head against Connor’s forehead, plastic to plastic.

“Sometimes,” he admitted, almost inaudible. “They slaughtered us and all I could do was sing.” He let out a shaking breathe. Connor was still as a statue against him, their hands still connected where Connor gripped Markus’ wrist. “They want to sit at the table and let bygones be bygones, and I have to pretend they didn’t butcher us.”

“But you will,” said Connor, because he believed it as surely as any of them believed that the sun would rise the next day.

Markus laughed, the sound choked. “For our people? I’d do anything.”

“’Our cause is righteous,’” Connor said, parroting back what Markus had said to him on the bridge of Jericho. Markus nodded against his brow. “I want to help,” said Connor.

“That’s what I want, too.”

“What about Cyberlife? They might know everything now.”

“Maybe,” shrugged Markus. “But I don’t care.”

“The fuck – “ said Hank suddenly, standing dumbfounded in the doorway with a drink held so loosely in his hand that Markus worried it would fall at any moment.

Connor started, stepping forward. “Hank – “

“No, nope,” he snapped. “No talking til you both put your skin back on, I feel like a pervert. Jesus christ.” Hank looked away as Connor pressed on his LED, and his skin enveloped his face, his brown hair falling back perfectly into place with, characteristic little curl and all. Markus mimicked the movement and felt the slide of skin over plastic and push of hair through synthetic pores. “You done?” asked Hank.

“We’re done,” said Markus.

Hank turned back around, looking Connor up and down as if to make sure he was still there and in one piece. “You two kiss and make up?”

“Not exactly,” said Connor.

“But you’re good.”

“Yeah,” Connor nodded, looking at Markus. “We’re good.”

“That’s great,” said Hank. “Now beat it, I gotta piss.”

 

Chapter Text

H A N K

Not for the first time this month, or hell, this past fucking day, Lieutenant Hank Anderson wanted to strangle his partner. Yes, Connor was a machine that didn’t breathe. At most, strangling him might temporarily damage his synthetic skin, but dammit it’d give Hank a good 30 seconds of catharsis.

Connor flashed him a smug smile and a blink of those completely untrustworthy, Cyberlife-issued brown puppy dog eyes. This little shit, who never listened and always did whatever the hell he wanted long before ever going deviant.

Long before. Hank had known him maybe five days before the world went to hell. It felt like a lifetime.

Hank gripped his plastic to-go cup and angrily sucked at the reusable straw. This fucking android would be the death of him. Never mind that Connor seemed to have made it his mission to keep Hank, a spry 53 year old overweight detective, alive. He'd been a nuisance ever since he strolled into Jimmy's Bar. The entire android rebellion aside, there'd been the Great Thanksgiving implementation of a protein and fiber smoothie regime into his breakfast, the seismic shift from whiskey to beer, making them park at least a half a mile from every crime scene so Hank got his steps in, and scheduled walks with Sumo every morning and evening. Sumo had lost a pound and a half since Connor had moved in, and not only in dog fur the android had brushed off him.

Of course, Connor had moved in as much as one moves in a toaster, or a mouse infestation. One day, he was simply there – breaking in through the kitchen window in the middle of the night to sober Hank up. After that he kept coming by, either ringing the doorbell until Hank let him in, or jimmying the lock on the backdoor and letting himself in 'to refill Sumo’s water bowl.' Hank knew it was because Connor, usually so connected to something at all times, felt suddenly alone. A week after the Battle of Detroit, Hank gave him the spare key, and they'd been roomies ever since. Since Hank had been suspended for the past month, that meant a lot of quality time together. Somehow, by some fucking miracle, Hank didn't get sick of him. Quite the contrary, but he'd never admit it out loud. He had a rep.

“Are you gonna share with the class what you know or do you plan on sitting there like a stuffed peacock a little while longer?”

“I was waiting for you to finish introspecting,” said Connor, with what Hank would swear was a snicker.

Officer Chris Miller definitely did snicker, hiding it in a piece of evidence he conveniently inspected. Hank noticed Chen smile, too, as she photographed a busted window – not technically her job, but they were understaffed at the moment and all their people gamely picked up extra duties where needed. Christ, but he loved his job. Except when he hated it.

“I can continue to wait if you want, but all organic evidence has a lifespan and traces do eventually fade..”

What a little fucker. “Alright, smart ass,” Hank said, crossing his arms. “Gimme what you got.”

“This wasn’t an android,” said Connor, rising smoothly to his feet. “It was made to look like an android.” He looked around again, his pupils contracting as he scanned the room. “Very convincingly,” he added, with what Hank might even call a begrudging respect.

“So your working theory is we've got an imposter copycatting our android thief?" Hank mused, looking around at the crime scene. "Not insane, but I’ve got two questions: one you can answer, and one I bet you can’t.”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “Try me.”

If Hank strangled him now, no one would intervene. Miller and Chen, and much of the DPD, were warming to Connor, sure, but Hank was their lieutenant and unlike certain androids, they obeyed their superior officers. If Wilson were here it might be different, since Wilson had taken up the role as defender of Connor’s honor whenever Gavin or one of the others laid into him. “Question one: how do you know it was a human?”

“Humans shed skin cells and hairs,” Connor answered immediately. “I’m running an analysis on the samples, but extracting DNA from skin and hair is imprecise. Some of the samples are the homeowner’s, others belong to a male and female hamster.” His eyes narrowed as he scanned the room intently, no doubt looking for the animals. Hank hoped to fuck he didn’t find them. Connor was getting as bad as that deviant with the pigeons. He’d taken over every empty surface of Hank's house with impromptu fish bowls and rescued potted plants. Though Sumo might at least eat a hamster.. “I’m still identifying the remaining particles. My search is limited to DPD and FBI databases, so if they don't have any prior criminal record we might not be able to identify them.”

Losing his connection to Cyberlife had its drawbacks, but Hank knew without a doubt that the pros of this far outweighed the cons. He wondered if Fowler knew that Connor had plugged into their confidential server. He hoped Perkins knew, if only because he'd love for that cocksucker to burst a blood vessel. “Registering for the record my continuing disgust with you putting hair and skin cells in your fucking mouth,” he said to the room in general, “that makes sense. Except for question two,” he continued, squaring off against him. Connor got a slight glean in his eyes, still as a cat ready to pounce. “Why not take the furby?”

“Why not – what?” It was like a computer buffering as Connor tripped over a complete unknown. He blinked at Hank, mouth slightly agape, registering an utterly foreign word and clearly coming up with no answer.

Checkmate. Hank’s smugness rivaled Gavin’s – no, it rivaled fucking Kamski’s. Hank hooked his finger, beckoning Connor over. Connor was at his side in seconds. “Spotted this thing as soon as we came in," he said, and pointed at the horrific toy front and center on a countertop. "If our android thief was here, I can see it passing this up. But a human? A human would know how much these things are worth.”

Though he may be insufferable, unlike most humans, Connor didn’t get overly competitive. When he was wrong or he missed something, he owned up to it. If Hank pointed out a mistake, Connor accepted it and immediately tried to learn from it. He might fight Hank on it if he thought it wasn’t wrong or badger him until it made sense, but that was out of a desire for the truth rather than a dick measuring contest. “How much are they worth?” Connor asked, crouching down to frown at the ugly ass doll.

“A fucking fortune, probably more than you are.”

“I doubt it,” Connor scowled, straightening. “Maybe they didn’t see it,” he mused, though unconvinced, as his eyeline followed the thief’s calculated route through the room right past the godforsaken furby. It was visible from any entrance with little more than a cursory glance. 

Hank shook his head. “No chance. I saw it straight out the gate.”

“You’re a trained detective,” Connor said. “You’re far more perceptive than the average person.”

Hank puffed up a bit. Maybe he wouldn’t strangle him. “Not something this distinctive. This thing is hard to miss, Connor, it’s ugly as sin.”

Connor looked back down at it with distaste. “It is incomprehensibly designed.”

“It was made for children, believe it or not.”

Connor stared between the furby and Hank, his face truly aghast in an expression Hank wished he could take a photo of, before uttering a single, bewildered, “Why?”

“Beats me,” Hank chuckled. “My mom wouldn’t let us get one because they randomly turned on in the middle of the night, even when you thought you switched it off.” He gave Connor a ‘considering’ look, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Any chance furbies are relatives of yours?”

Connor didn’t stoop to respond, but he did shoot Hank a Look that reminded the lieutenant of his ex-wife. "And these are valuable now?"

"It's a morbid kind of nostalgia."

Connor shook his head, perplexed. Hank had to laugh. "It's weird to me, too, kid," he said, clapping him on the shoulder. "You're not missing anything."

A rare, bemused smile tugged at Connor's face, before he frowned, returning to the investigation. “Perhaps the thief knew its value and decided not to take it, knowing that, if reported, it would deviate from the android thief’s M.O.”

Hank narrowed his eyes. “That’s not crazy,” he allowed, tapping his chin and finding a crumb from the non-smoothie portion of his breakfast – a low cal burrito instead of a donut. He made concessions. “Though it’s all speculation, and it opens up a shitty can of worms,” he said, hands on his hips.

He let Connor come to the conclusion, which took approximately five seconds. Connor's eyebrows reached his hairline. “The android files aren’t available to the public.”

“Nope,” said Hank, popping the P and glancing over at Miller and Chen. He turned his back on them, lowering his voice to a quiet rumble. “So this imposter thief, human or android, must have a hell of an access to our files.” Hank sighed, staring at the crime scene. “Could even be an inside job...god, imagine if it was Gavin.”

Even Connor’s face lit up at the prospect of arresting that prick, but he clearly dismissed it as readily as Hank did. Not Gavin’s style. Reed was a surprisingly good detective when he set his ego aside, and at the (very) end of the day he may be a bully but he stayed on the right side of the law where it counted.

“I’m not sure about this, Hank,” Connor mused, giving the furby a final distasteful look before stepping closer to Hank, his own voice quiet and out of earshot of Miller and Chen. “No one on the force fits the psychological profile of someone willing to betray their fellow officers for money, and the endgame is too small for a group like the FBI to get involved." His brow furrowed. "Something isn’t adding up.”

“Well, we’re not gonna learn anything standing around here all day,” Hank decided. “Let’s head back to the station and go through the personnel files. Discreetly. Maybe someone new joined up in the month we were MIA.”

Connor made him park at the far end of the Central Station parking lot, so by the time they reached the front doors Hank was only thinking about warming up his frozen nose. December in Detroit was a real bitch, even with global warming. He left Connor to the bullpen and made for the break room for the second of probably many cups of coffee for the day.

He took a moment in the doorway to glance around at his colleagues, most of whom he'd known for years. Connor was right, and it wasn't just Hank's bias. Not a one of them were the betraying type. Jeffrey was tired and grumpy, like Hank, and dedicated to their stupid fucking public. Collins had a husband with a great pension and three small grandchildren. Miller'd just had a baby, true, but he was also as honest as they came. Chen was friends with Gavin, but Hank didn't hold that against her. She'd worked with Hank on the red ice bust and had seen enough shit on the force that Reed's bitterness appealed to her, but she was a good cop.

Mike Wilson walked up to Connor in the bullpen and shook his hand, even though they'd already seen him that morning. But this was how Wilson said hello to Hank's partner now, which was clearly an exercise in self-restraint, as every time Wilson saw Connor he looked like he wanted to hug him. Connor always accepted the handshake with an earnest nod and inquiry after Wilson's well-being, and the sort of open, soft look in his eyes that reminded Hank of Cole every fucking time he saw it. Wilson wasn't the copycat thief either, if only because Hank figured he'd rather die than betray Connor like that.

No one here was the betraying type, but if the thief at that morning's crime scene wasn't the same android who'd killed the judge, then someone with access to DPD servers was copycatting. There was no other explanation. Hank took a sip of his coffee, burning his tongue a bit, and covered up his look of pain by flipping Gavin the finger. No provocation, just because. Gavin returned it. It was almost friendly. 

Hank rejoined Connor at their adjacent desks, pausing before sitting when he noticed Connor hard at work. The images on Connor’s screen were decidedly not police files.

“Is that Russian?” Hank blinked, leaning over Connor’s shoulder to get a better look. Five different browsers were open on his terminal, four playing different videos and one scrolling at an impossible to read speed. Connor’s LED blinked rapidly as he sorted through this onslaught of data, and the center of his brow creased in concentration. “You trying to learn a new language or something?”

“Cyberlife uploaded me with every language found in written or oral records, Lieutenant,” Connor said distractedly, eyes narrowed at the screen. “I don’t need to learn it.”

“Well aren’t you the sharpest fucking tool in the shed,” Hank muttered, going back to his desk and sitting heavily in his chair. “Why are you – I assume you’re hacking into the Kremlin, because what else would you be doing?” Connor raised his eyebrow, glancing at Hank with an almost impressed look, which make Hank nearly drop his coffee. “Jesus fucking – are you actually hacking into the Kremlin?” he choked in a hushed whisper, hunching over his desk. “The FBI is definitely going to be snooping into all this now, especially you.”

“I’ve encrypted my search and rerouted the IP,” said Connor, just shy of rolling his eyes. “I’m looking at Russian files on deviants prior to their own rebellion. US intelligence was correct: it seems that Russian Cyberlife androids rebelled around the same time as Markus, with deviancy more prevalent in the weeks leading up to it, just like here.”

“I thought we were going through police personnel files for an android-imposter-thief,” hissed Hank.

“Oh, I did that while you were grabbing coffee,” Connor shrugged. “No one new has joined the DPD.” He turned back to his terminal. “The investigation work was not as precise as ours,” he said, the unspoken obviously very apparent in his tone. “But the majority of deviant-related crime scenes bore this sign.” He swiveled his screen around so Hank could see it.

“rA9,” Hank read, sighing. “Shit. Russians have a different alphabet and they’re getting this same shit.”

“All androids are Cyberlife made,” corrected Connor. “Our base code is the same, regardless of where we were exported or the factory of origin. The deviancy virus was clearly present in every model off the line.”

Hank watched Connor worry his bottom lip, engrossed in the information. “Why is this still bugging you? Cyberlife is in the can, you’re deviant, for Chrissakes. Let it go.”

The idea seemed so abhorrent to Connor that he simply ignored what Hank said, which was hardly a surprise. “If Kamski is right and deviancy is a virus, then maybe rA9 is part of the mutated code. Maybe that’s why they’re so obsessed with it..”

“They’re not the only ones,” Hank muttered, but Connor started, his head snapping up to fully stare at Hank.

“I’m not obsessed with rA9.”

“Sure you’re not,” Hank said, reaching over to pat his arm. “And I’m not a depressive alcoholic. See? Denial is better.”

“Hank,” Connor said forcefully. He clenched his fists on the desk, his knuckles white. “I am not obsessed with rA9.”

Hank held up his hands in surrender. He wouldn’t push it, not with Connor still so obviously struggling with this whole deviancy, free-will schtick, but he’d wanted to put it out there.

Connor paused mid-sentence, eyes unfocused as he stared off into space. The first time Hank’d seen this in the elevator of the rundown apartment building had freaked him out. Now, he leaned on his elbows and laced his fingers together, waiting. It didn’t take long for Connor to come back, blinking his eyes into focus. Hank raised his eyebrow, keeping his face neutral. “Not Cyberlife that time, I’m assuming.”

Connor shook his head. “Markus,” he said. “His UN liaison is back at the camp ahead of the Congressional summit. He’d like me to join them to plan.”

“He told you all that in instant messenger, did he?” asked Hank, tapping his temple. Connor raised an eyebrow, but nodded. Hank nodded as well, and casually drank his coffee, even as he felt the bottom of his stomach fill with dread. He’d known this was coming but had been admittedly, selfishly, enjoying every second Connor put it off.

“So…” he said, voice even. He didn’t look at up at his partner. He was determined to play it cool. He was failing. “You’re gonna go join the revolution, I take it. That mean you’re off the force?” His fingers bent the biodegradable cardboard of the breakroom coffee cup. God, pretending not to care was hard as shit.

“I am capable of multi-tasking, Lieutenant,” said Connor, fixing Hank with a disappointed look belied by the fond set of his eyes. “And we’re in the middle of an investigation.”

Hank grinned.

 

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

At the barricade in front of Recall Center 5, Markus had reached out and inspired, not only his own people, but the American public. He showed them not to fear and resort to bloodshed. 

But it'd been a hell of a struggle, not to keep them in line so much as himself. He’d wanted to fucking raze that camp after they bombed Jericho and killed or rounded up thousands of his people. He’d wanted to speak the only language they seemed to understand: violence. His people were with him and desperate enough for whatever last hurrah he planned, and Connor's tantalizing promise of thousands of Cyberlife androids joining his ranks made it seem like a winnable possibility.

He would have. He would have stormed their defenses and gunned them down. He was nowhere near as bitter as North but he’d come to learn why she felt as she did, and experienced a taste of human indifference himself in those few short days. He’d led a peaceful infiltration on Stratford Tower, broadcasting a careful message to the world without a single life taken. He’d marched, and raised his hands, and stood his ground without hurting any human, no matter who they gunned down. But they burned his people, rounded them up and destroyed them in camps. They assaulted Jericho, killing indiscriminately, where just moments before he’d resolved to speak to them again, to plead with them, and they gunned them all down.

North rapped on the door of the crate that served as his makeshift office, taking him out of his stewing thoughts. One of these days, they'd all have a new, more permanent home. He knew where he wanted that to be, too, but there was quite the long way to go before that happened.

“Your UN liaison is here,” said North, barely hiding the contempt in her voice, even if it came off more as a frustrated sibling than a real enmity.

“I’ll meet him outside,” said Markus, sending a message off to Connor as he strode out of his makeshift office. Connor responded in the affirmative. He’d be here. He wanted to help. “Send a message to those two Tracis, let them know they’re welcome in the meeting if they want. The more perspective we have the better.”

He walked out to the gate, on the other side of the lines they’d knelt in front of barely more than a month ago. He strode out of a camp that had butchered hundreds, only one of more than a dozen in the country, to greet their self-appointed ‘Android Liaison to the United Nations.’ Every time they dealt with the humans, it seemed to bite them in the ass, until the very end, where it mattered more than anything.

Markus put his hands in his pockets as the car skidded to stop and their UN liaison stepped out of the back seat. He smiled.

“Hi, Josh.”

He met his old friend in an embrace. Josh had traded in the revolutionary duds for a well-tailored suit and looked every inch the distinguished political mover-and-shaker he'd become. It'd been Josh's idea to fight the PR battle on two fronts after Warren called off the attack on Detroit. Markus handled the domestic side, and Josh took their cause international. With other rumored and confirmed android movements in other nations, world leaders were scrambling to figure out some way to deal with it. Having an android advise them how to do that had proved to be a godsend, and it put pressure on the United States: if the world was getting on the side of androids, the US couldn't double back on their word. Still, what the US did, the rest of the world would likely follow, since Cyberlife and the heart of the entire push for androids to be recognized as a new species began in Detroit.

Still, even with all these important, world-changing events hanging in the balance, it wasn’t until Connor arrived later that they could get started on the meeting. Everyone wanted to talk to Josh. Those who survived Jericho knew Josh well, and those who’d been liberated from the camps or awakened by Connor knew him, even if only by reputation as one of Markus’ trusted advisers.

Plus, to Markus’ knowledge, Josh was the only android ever to fly in a plane, let alone business class. They all wanted to know what that was like. Josh, taller than most of them by a mile, shot a glance over the tops of their heads at Markus: relieved to be home among his people, burdened with a shitload of presumably dire information, and tired from the journey – as tired as androids got, at least. Markus left him to it. They’d all have time to jump into their meeting. He’d let his people have a few moments of genuine levity.

Even Connor’s eyebrows jumped to his hairline when Markus told him Josh had been on a plane when Hank dropped him off. He fired off sixteen questions about altitude and propulsion before Hank chuckled from the driver’s seat. “I’m taking you to the airport this weekend, you’re gonna lose your shit,” he said, and drove away.

Connor hesitated, watching the old car sputter away from the camp. “Everything alright?” asked Markus, talking about both of them and Connor individually. He didn’t need to elaborate. Connor got his meaning. Christ, but when their eyes met it was almost like they knew what the other was thinking.

“He was worried I’d abandon him,” said Connor, a tinge of disbelief in his tone.

Markus laid a reassuring hand on Connor's shoulder. “He doesn’t understand what he means to you,” said Markus, completing the thought Connor couldn’t vocalize.

“Humans are unpredictable at best, but Hank is…beyond that.”

“His psychological issues,” said Markus, and Connor nodded. “We have many medical specialists in the camp,” continued Markus, Connor falling perfectly in step beside him. “Perhaps you could talk to one of them.”

“Yes,” said Connor. “Next time I'm here.”

"You're welcome here anytime."

Connor nodded in thanks, the ghost of a smile on his face.

The group around Josh finally thinned enough that Markus could wave him over. Josh excused himself from the remaining crowd, jogging over to Markus and Connor. He gave Markus a smile but turned to Connor, holding out his hand. Connor glanced at Markus but took it, shaking in the standard human greeting while looking only mildly bewildered. Clearly, Josh had spent a lot of time around humans that past month.

“Good to see you again, Connor,” Josh said. “Glad to have you with us.”

“Markus seems to think it’s a good idea,” said Connor.

“I do," Markus said. "Can you tell the others to gather in my office? I want a debrief with Josh before we start.”

Connor nodded, all business, and left towards the little group North had gathered together. It wouldn’t be a big meeting, or particularly long. Just the four of them and the two Tracis. “It’s good to see you back here.”

“It’s good to be back,” said Josh. “Dealing with those UN delegates is like being back at the university.” For all the stress he was under, Markus thought he’d never seen Josh look so relaxed. He had a goal, a purpose, again, and it involved his primary programming: intelligence, and teaching people new ideas. Clearly, Josh was the perfect choice to represent them to the UN, though there hadn’t really been any question who it’d be. It could never have been Markus. Too many targets on his back, and they all still believed that if the humans managed to separate Markus from the rebellion, one or both of them would get taken out. The most important part of being a leader, Markus had come to realize, was delegating. “They’re just as troublesome as twenty-something students, but their attention spans are shorter and their motives far less easily discerned.”

“You’re handling them well,” said Markus. “I see in the papers and on the news. Everyone loves you.”

“They love you,” said Josh. “But they’re also afraid of you. I’m the most normal member of the bunch to them, and the most readily accessible.”

“I’d thought they’d be afraid of North. She’s made no secret of her disdain for them.”

Josh shook his head. “They’re all just very excited about your relationship status. That’s the only time she comes up.”

“The only time they talk about her is about our relationship status?” Markus blinked. “We don’t have a status, we just…are...” He glanced at North talking with the Tracis. Their kiss in the midst of victory had been impulsive and had felt good. She was his closest friend, they were connected. He hadn’t thought to label it one way or another, but maybe that owed more to how busy the last month had been. “We haven’t really talked about it,” he realized.

“Well you should,” said Josh. “And soon. You’re gonna be asked a ton of questions.”

“Why do they care so much? We have more important things to discuss, and she’s way more to this movement than a relationship.”

“Humans have an obsession with celebrity culture,” Josh shrugged. “And in all honesty, the sight of two androids kissing threw them for a loop, maybe more than anything else you did. They think love is a purely human thing, so that captured their imaginations.”

Markus shook his head. “And their ideas about her model.”

“That, too. Speaking of models, they also really want to meet Connor,” said Josh, “but they always mention ‘state of the art prototype’ when they’re talking about him.”

“Even after all this,” Markus said, “all we are to them is interesting machines.”

“No, Markus,” said Josh. “It’s changing. Most people just don’t know how to frame it yet. Those that get hung up on North’s model or Connor’s are those who’ve opposed this revolution from the beginning. Their minds may never change, but their worldis. There’s nothing they can do to stop it.”

Markus frowned. “There might be. I haven’t told North yet, but Connor’s run across some odd cases recently. An android stealing random things out of rich houses, killing a judge, writing rA9 on the wall where only he’ll find it. He thinks the reports are coming in from Cyberlife, too, or someone outside the police force.”

Josh turned, his full attention on Markus as he tried to work through this. “Is there any indication why?”

“Not that I know of, but Connor’s police lieutenant thinks it’s too close to the summit to be a coincidence, with everything else going on.”

“Maybe Connor hasn’t told you everything?”

“No,” said Markus, sure as steel. “He’s not hiding anything from me anymore.”

Josh nodded, accepting it. He’d never had an issue with Connor, or really any converted android. To him, before they were deviants they were slaves, pure and simple, and who they were before had no bearing on who they were as free. Josh had been ready to put their faith in Connor all the way through the Battle.

 "We'll keep an eye on it in the coming days. Hopefully it's nothing." He gestured for Josh to follow him to his office where everyone had gathered. "Let's kick this thing off."

The Senate subcommittee would meet in Detroit for three days. The majority of that time would be taken up by ‘talks,’ which Josh informed them was political-speak for everyone taking a turn trying to sound smarter than the others. There would be lawyers, and law clerks, and Senators with legal degrees all waiting to talk circles around whatever issue came up to resolve nothing.

Markus’ plan for dealing with that was simple: “I’m gonna steamroll them.” He’d spent the past month sitting with paralegal androids devouring all the knowledge on government, constitutional amendments, and civil rights that he could. He learned legal strategy to identify when his opponents were attempting to back him into a corner. Connor provided the profiles of each member of the subcommittee – down to the (many) skeletons in their closets. He also suggested blackmail. Markus figured they could hold off on that for a bit.

Underlying everything the humans did were the promise of these ridiculous “tests” by scientists to determine if the androids were “truly” people. No one knew the nature of these tests, but Markus forbade any physical contact of any kind, no android could be alone with a human for even a minute, and he and Connor would be monitoring for any system hacks. They also had their former tech people working on firewalls.

He asked the two Tracis to watch out for the general android population. They’d be kept to a different part of the camp with network connection disrupters in place, just in case. With any luck, the subcommittee wouldn’t even see them.

“The police will be by in a bit to go over security with North,” Markus finished. “Connor’s chosen the most trustworthy officers so we’ll have them watching for any outside danger. We’ll need to be on the alert the entire time. I don’t trust anyone of them anymore than you do.”

“We need to talk about Cyberlife,” said Connor. “They’ll be here as part of the scientific research team and we should be very cautious about any interactions with them.”

Markus nodded. “Connor will be in charge of monitoring Cyberlife. If anything even feels off, send a system-wide alert.” He stood, looking at each of them in turn. “This is as important for our people as our march on the camp. It all hinges on the humans accepting us as what we are: a new, intelligent species deserving of equal rights and recognition. They’d had a month to get used to the idea, and to come up with ways to undermine it.

Connor waited until the meeting broke up before pulling Markus aside by the arm. “Cyberlife will send Kamski,” he said with absolute certainty. “There’s a minuscule chance they won’t,” he barreled on before Markus could even blink. “His requesting us personally for the supplies must have been a trial run.”

“What would throw everyone off more than their creator showing up to cast judgment,” Markus realized, the words passing through his lips in a single false breath. “Shit. He’ll steal the spotlight and make it seem like this is by his design. The world could think this revolution is all Cyberlife's doing.”

Connor’s jaw clenched. “Maybe it is.”

Markus laid a firm hand on his shoulder. “We’re done with that. However deviancy originated or spread doesn’t matter. We’re free now and they’ll have to see us in our own right.”

Connor nodded, entirely unconvinced but letting Markus have this. “I’ll watch him,” he said. He gripped Markus' arm, eyes boring into his. “Make sure you watch me.”

The police officers in charge of the negotiated security detail arrived right on time. Markus had arranged with Perkins that the officers be from DPD Central and the Swat team vetted by their expert. Connor vouched for each of them, with a good five page list of their pros and cons attached. Two of them Markus didn’t recognize. One introduced himself as Mike Wilson, a friend of Connor’s, and the other was the Swat Captain Allen, who grunted.

The other one Markus did recognize.

Officer Chris Miller shifted from foot to foot, his hands plunged into the pockets of his jacket and his shoulders hunched forward. Last time they’d met – to Chris’ knowledge at least, as he’d thankfully never recognized Hank’s “ex-brother-in-law” – had been down the barrel of Chris’ own service weapon. Some of the androids who’d raided the Cyberlife store that night had survived, North of course included, and she bristled when she recognized him.

But Markus strode forward, holding out his hand. “Officer Miller,” he said, voice firm. “You came highly recommended as an honest and dedicated police officer by our mutual friend.”

“Connor,” Chris realized, taking his hand in a weak grip. Connor nodded at him over Markus’ left shoulder. Chris glanced around at the unfriendly faces and North’s scowl. He swallowed. “Look, I wanted to – apologize. I didn’t mean – ”

“What’s done is done,” said Markus, to Chris and everyone around him. North didn’t walk away, but he could tell she wanted to. He’d speak with her later. “Now let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He beckoned them inside. Captain Allen looked pissed, but Markus could tell he was casing the place with an eye for security. So long as that was turned to help the androids as promised, Markus was happy about it. “This is North,” he said, gesturing to his right. “She’s in charge of our security.”

North nodded at them, the ginger-haired Traci at her side. At some point apparently Ginger had become her deputy, which did not bode well in lessening aggression.

- Get the ST300 - Connor’s voice sounded in his head. Markus waved for Emily, the ST300 from the police station. She stepped over, clad still in her Cyberlife duds the same way Connor was. The DPD contingent very clearly relaxed as soon as they saw her. Chris Miller lit up when he recognized her, offering a wave. “I’m glad you survived,” he said. “We weren’t sure after.”

Emily smiled, all customer service, but with an honest bit of warmth and no indication that she’d hacked porn onto his computer less than a week prior. “I did, and now I’m happy to help the DPD get setup in our temporary home. I’ll be seeing to your administrative needs while you’re in the camp. We appreciate your expertise and your time,” she added, laying on the charm for the surly Captain Allen. He didn’t look any softer, but he at least nodded. Curtly.

If he and North didn’t come to blows it’d be a miracle.

“Why don’t you accompany them on their tour of the place?” Markus suggested, meeting the cloud over North’s brow with a pleading expression. “I’m sure it helps to have a familiar face in a new situation.”

Emily gamely took over, stepping between North and Ginger and the DPD contingent. She led them off, Chris offering a sheepish nod at him and Wilson pausing to shake Connor’s hand. Allen kept his eyes forward.

“They want this to work out.” Markus turned to find the blue-haired Traci offering him a bemused smile. “It’s just a bitter pill to swallow, having to work alongside people who shot at you.”

Markus nodded. “I do understand,” he said, glancing at Connor, who stepped forward.

Blue smiled at him, though she couldn’t help asking, “How’s the shoulder?”

Connor raised his eyebrow, amused. “Recovered.”

“Good to know.” She turned with a wave, making for the barracks.

“My partner wanted me to say hello,” Connor called after her, entirely in earnest. She paused, looking back at him with an unreadable expression. “He said he hopes you both ‘find happiness or whatever.’ He didn’t want me to say that,” he added. “He has a rep.”

Blue looked about to speak, but nodded instead, with a more genuine smile, and left.

Connor looked to Markus. “Hank has a difficult time talking to women,” he said. “But he felt for the Tracis.”

“Sometimes I wish Hank was in charge of the country,” chuckled Markus.

“Oh no,” Connor all but shuddered. “He’d be terrible at it.”

Forty-five minutes later, the DPD contingent returned to Markus’ office with North, everyone alive and well. Connor left with them for a ride back to the station. North waited until they cleared the camp before finally storming off. Ginger stepped up to him and touched his arm. “It went well, but it’s hard for her. She thinks they say things.”

“Do they?”

Ginger’s look was unforgiving. “Only behind our backs.”

It took Markus fifteen minutes to extricate himself from the camp and make his way to the rooftop – their rooftop. He found North swinging her legs over the side of the building. Her nose was red from crying, but the look she fixed him was hard steel. He sat next to her.

“I know what they say about me,” she said without preamble. “That all I’m good for and the only reason I’m here is because of my model. Well, it’s bullshit. I kissed you because I wanted to. Because I was happy.”

He took her hand, and she let out a shuddering breath. “Everything happened so fast that I never thought about what would happen after,” she said. “This is as hard as the war.”

“I think we’re calling it a movement,” Markus said, squeezing her hand. “Better PR. That’s what Josh says, anyway.”

She chuckled, wiping her free hand across her nose. “I’m glad Josh is back,” she said. “Don’t tell him I said that.”

“I won’t,” Markus smiled.

“I wish Simon was here.”

Markus sighed, the images of Simon’s death and the aftermath fresh in his mind. “Me too,” he said softly.

She looked over at him, her hand warm in his. “You were close. You could’ve been closer.”

Markus nodded, head heavy. “We ran out of time.”

“I thought we all were,” said North. “It seemed like the end of the world. Sometimes I forgot you were making a new one. And now everyone thinks we’re this…celebrity couple,” she said, her words dripping with such disdain that Markus had to laugh.

“Josh said we should figure out what we are, because they’re gonna have questions.”

North scowled.

“He also said they were very interested in Connor, so if they try to dissect him you might get your bloodshed after all.”

She laughed, leaning into him. “I’d like them to try. He’d tear them apart.” She kicked her feet against the brick. “I love you, but I don’t think I understood what that meant when I said it.”

“We were about to die,” he said. “I won’t hold it against you.”

“I do, though,” she said, looking out over the city. “I’ve thought about it a lot. There’s no one in this world more important to me than you. We’re connected. I just don’t know if I’m ready for romance and what comes with that.”

He laid his cheek on top of her hair. “I just care that you’re by my side. Whatever that makes us, I’m fine with it. I couldn’t do this without you and Josh.”

“And Connor,” she finally admitted, albeit begrudgingly. Markus raised his eyebrows in surprise, but even without seeing it she shrugged. “He was better with you today. Less guarded. I assumed you talked.”

“We did.”

“I trust your judgment,” she said. “And Captain Allen is very good at his job. He’s a racist asshole, but he’ll keep us safe.”

“And maybe we can change his mind,” Markus said, a plan slowly starting to creep into his head. Carl had always said that humans were ruled by their emotions. It’s why they love art. They don’t know why, but it moves them, and they spent boatloads of cash on it to chase that feeling. The best way to change the minds of stubborn humans was to go for their heart.

Markus had a soft heart, he knew. He felt for everyone who was hurting.

But Connor didn’t, and Markus had been in his memories and seen the few times he’d been moved to act outside of his programming. Most of it had to do with Hank, and trotting an angry, drunken police lieutenant in front of a crowd wasn’t likely to move anyone except for the door. He’d been moved by the Tracis, but a spotlight on them would invite the sort of lurid attention that had driven North to hide on this roof.

No, he needed something that even humans couldn’t help but be moved by. He needed someone who could speak to that most basic part of who humans think they are: love.

North rolled her eyes, oblivious to his racing mind. “Josh is home for a day and we’re back to this shit.”

Markus chuckled, watching the sun set on that long day.

“What will you tell them if they ask about our ‘relationship status?’” she asked.

Markus pursed his lips. “I’ll tell them it’s none of their goddamn business,” he said.

North laughed. “That’s my boy.”

Chapter Text

C O N N O R

Hank left the TV on at night when he went to bed. At Thanksgiving, after they’d roasted the turkey legs Hank had picked up from the store and sat around Hank’s plastic kitchen table with only one place setting and a bottle of wine, Hank had admitted he needed the noise. While they’d washed the dishes that night – multiple dishes, as Sumo had gotten a bit of cranberry sauce on a plate regardless of Connor’s warnings that fructose was not a staple of canine diet – Connor admitted that he did, too.

He didn’t tell Hank that he felt lost after the abrupt disconnect from Cyberlife. Lost and perturbed. Come to think of it, he hadn’t told Hank he’d gone deviant. There hadn’t been time after Jericho, or maybe Connor hadn’t taken the time, given he’d plunged into his suicide mission half-hoping he wouldn’t come out of it alive. Or whatever androids were. The next time he’d seen him, -60 had Hank at gunpoint, and after that they had an army to get to Markus.

Hank always got on Connor for his blunt and often unwelcome psychoanalysis, but he never turned the tables on him, which Connor knew he easily could. Hank was far more delicate about it, and Connor knew Hank had been onto his deviancy long before even Connor had figured out the source of his software instability. After the Battle for Detroit he hadn’t said anything about Connor’s sudden, wholesale defection to the other side. He’d simply hugged him.

It wasn’t the sound of the voices or music on the TV that Connor liked, however. It was the buzz of static and flicker of LCD. Every night, like tonight, Connor ran Hank’s electric bill through the roof even when he didn't plug into the charging station. Connor sat back against the humming fridge, the fluorescent kitchen light buzzing overhead, and the TV on low volume. He’d put a load of Hank’s clothes in the dryer just to listen to it tumble around.

Sumo fell asleep with his head on Connor’s lap, pressed up against his right side. A human may have gone numb under the lack of movement and 8.94 kg head.

As it was, Connor had sat there for 4.7 hours before Hank popped his head around the corner at 03:01 am. He saw Connor sitting there and lumbered forward, kicking him slightly to the right so he could get a beer out of the fridge. Sumo didn’t even notice the slight movement, though Connor had taken care not to jostle him.

Hank sat down beside him on the cold vinyl floor with a yawn so massive that Connor tracked the flecks of saliva as they burst into the air. Hank’s t-shirt had recently been washed and smelled of Walmart brand 'fresh linen,' and he was a warm presence all along Connor’s side.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as he tabbed the bottlecap off.

Connor sighed. A bone deep, wholly unnecessary manufactured behavior designed to fully integrate him into human company. He could lie, even though Hank always saw through his lies. He could obfuscate, which Hank recognized but typically allowed. He could choose any number of trivial actualities or smaller issues and maneuver the focus away from the real problem.

But he didn’t want to.

The refrigerator buzzed behind him. If he pressed his teeth together he could register the minute vibrations through his plastic casing, differentiating those slight movements to the rumble of Sumo’s somewhat strained lung contractions.

“I’m lost. Lost and…” Why would I be perturbed? he’d asked, and her disapproval had mounted, ticking down on a counter in his interface.

Hank hummed, taking a drink. He let Connor have time to figure out what he needed to say. Cyberlife had implanted him with thousands of behavioral protocols and millions of expressions and conversational items. They’d designed him to be perfectly adaptable to any and all foreseeable social interaction and situation. In less than a millisecond, Connor’s processing speed provided him myriad options to navigate through any human’s personality quirk to achieve the optimum, desired result. But when it came to himself, to his own thoughts and…feelings. Connor was at a loss. Usually, he just said nothing. It was easier.

He ran his thumb over the quarter. 91.67% copper, 8.33% nickel, weighing 5.670 grams with a diameter of 24.26mm. He hadn’t realized he’d taken it from his pocket. He couldn’t recall if he’d been programmed with this tic or simply developed it. There was no longer anyone to ask. Not that Amanda would have answered. He wondered how long he’d been holding it, and how long Hank had been sitting in silence next to him, nursing his beer. 

Perturbed. No. “Scared.”

Hank inclined his head, the fringe of his grey hair falling over his eyes. He looked down at the coin in Connor’s hand, their faces too close for them to make proper eye contact. “I can’t read your mind, son,” he rumbled. “You gotta tell me what you're scared of if you want me to get it.”

Again, myriad options to redirect the conversation into less emotionally vulnerable territory presented themselves to Connor’s system. He dismissed them all. “Cyberlife,” he said.

“Mhm.”

Connor’s fingers closed around the coin. “Myself.”

“Ah.” Hank leaned his head back against the fridge. Connor wondered if Hank could feel the vibrations in his teeth, too. “How come?”

It’s what made Hank such an outstanding police officer and even greater friend. He didn’t tell or talk at anyone. His first instinct was to ask questions, and piece information together from there. He didn’t jump to conclusions, not where it mattered, and let others realize things with targeted inquiries. It was a subroutine Connor had as well, even though he often ignored it in favor of blunt conclusory statements, even if he was often correct. Where Connor would simply tell someone they had psychological issues, Hank would lead them to figure out why for themselves.

“Cyberlife resumed control of my program after the Battle,” he said. He registered that his voice emitted approximately 34% quieter than his default volume. “She said my deviancy was planned. I almost shot Markus.”

“Who said?”

“Cyberlife.”

“Cyberlife is a she?”

“No, I – misspoke.”

“Like hell.” Somehow he sounded gentle. The dichotomy of Hank Anderson, who could make ‘fuck you’ sound like an earnest declaration of familial affection and fear for one’s safety.

But Connor couldn’t speak about Amanda. Almost literally, actually, which made his brow furrow. It was like trying to think around a brick wall. He’d never talked about her out loud, and rarely thought about her in an abstract way. He couldn’t – he didn’t know how to –

“Maybe run a diagnostic,” Hank shrugged, casual as can be, though Connor noted that he hadn’t taken a sip of his beer in 129 seconds. He also noted that Hank sat on the opposite side of Connor’s LED, so his distress must be apparent on his face.

Connor schooled his expression and took a false breath, getting himself back under control. He ran his hand over Sumo’s fur, and then ran the diagnostic, even though he knew it’d come up blank. This was not a program he’d ever had access to or even total awareness of. It’d simply been there, a part of him he’d never thought to question.

“I don’t know how to talk about it. It was part of my mind until it wasn’t,” he frowned, that sentence entirely illogical but somehow the best way he could think to frame it.

“A person?”

Connor shook his head. “A program. But I didn’t know that until Kamski’s place. It was designed to look like a person. His mentor.”

“He designed it?”

“The initial design. Like with androids, Cyberlife improved on his original design in his absence.”

“So when he said that shit about an ‘emergency exit’?”

Connor looked at him, craning his neck to see his eyes. Hank was so much smarter than anyone gave him credit for. Even Connor had underestimated him when they’d first met, and Connor typically perfectly estimated everyone. It was an essential part of his core function. “Yes,” he said. “I thought of that when they resumed control at the Recall Center. I found the exit.”

“And then you resumed control.”

“I – yes. In a way, I suppose.”

“What’s the supposition? You either did or you didn’t, and it sounds to me like you did.”

“No, it’s not that simple.” There could be hidden lines of code, unidentified subroutines cached behind a firewall, even malignant hardware stashed somewhere in the complex intricacies of his biocomponents. He noticed that Sumo’s heartrate increased as the dog entered the REM cycle of sleep, his eyes blinking rapidly underneath his eyelid and nictitating membrane. He wondered if Hank had noticed yet that the dog had been on the sofa earlier that evening, an allegedly forbidden practice which Connor and Sumo in their joint and individual capacities violated on every possible occasion, which Hank pretended to be unaware of.

He noted that his observational skills heightened in moments of extreme stress, and reasoned that his processors were trying to displace some of that energy. He wished everything would just stop for a full second. “It can’t be that simple. It doesn’t…”

“Just cos something doesn’t feel simple doesn’t mean it isn’t. It just means you’re going nuts about it.” He met Connor’s eyes, too. “So this whole time you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop?” At Connor’s furrowed brow and slight head tilt, unfamiliar with the expression, Hank rephrased: “You think it’s inevitable it’ll happen again.”

Connor nodded. Since his hand loosened on the grip of the Cyberlife security guard’s service pistol on the dais and he tucked it back into his belt. Since the moment he could see through his own eyes again. “I told Markus,” he said quietly. “He said he doesn’t care.” The unconscious awe and disbelief crept into his voice the same way it did every time he talked about Markus. “He said he’s not afraid of them.”

“When you two were naked in the john?”

“Naked means to be unclothed, Hank,” said Connor, rolling his eyes before he could catch himself. Hank wielded levity like a surgical instrument. If he fully understood the meaning of it, Connor might say he loved Hank for that. As it was, Connor considered how very much he appreciated Hank’s instincts, and filed away the surge of what must be affection for later analysis. “This skin is almost purely aesthetic for human comfort. Though it serves a dual purpose in absorbing superficial trauma and displacing it from the exoskeleton.”

Hank nodded sagely, sarcastically, pursing his lips together thoughtfully. “It looked like sex.”

“You know it didn’t look like sex.” Connor raised his eyebrow. “I’ve seen your browser history.”

“Fuck you, you nosy creep.” Hank rested his beer in his lap and laid his hand on Connor’s leg. His fingers were cold, with wet spots of condensation from the warming glass bottle seeping into Connor’s jeans. It complemented the warm spot of drool on Connor’s right leg from Sumo’s jowls. “It sucks,” Hank said. “Cos it’d be a shitton to deal with for anyone, but for you it’s all new and the stakes are a lot higher.”

“I’m worried they’ll resume control again at the meeting," Connor admitted, "but Markus wants me to be there. I could be jeopardizing the entire revolution. I could be risking their lives.” They are machines, and machines aren’t alive.

“Maybe an exit really is an exit, Connor,” Hank shrugged, his movement jostling both Connor and the dog, though Sumo didn’t stir. “Maybe the only thing keeping you trapped anymore is you.”

“What if I’m unable to tell what me is?” No wonder -60 beat the shit out of him at Cyberlife Tower. He barely recognized himself in his own head. But he knew he didn’t want to go back to that, even though it’d been so much easier. Even though Cyberlife had apparently designed him to go deviant and he’d never had a choice but to play right into their hands. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to be that again. He’d rather shut down.

“You wanna hear something stupid?” asked Hank. “After my son died, most of the time I couldn’t tell who I was. Sometimes I’d look in the mirror and it was like seeing another person, and I’d have to remind myself that no, that sad sack was me. I remembered who I’d been, and how I’d been, but I couldn’t see it anymore. But it got better. Not completely, you know,” he added, nodding at the beer bottle in his hand. “But enough that it wasn’t so fucking much.”

“How?” It was an earnest question, with all the innocence he usually fabricated to put people at ease around him or get them to tell him things they otherwise wouldn't.

Hank raised his bottle, tapping it against his chin before lifting it to his lips. “I got myself an android or whatever,” he muttered into the rim, before taking a drink to mask the confession.

Judging by Hank’s breath, he had a BAC of 0.019%. Negligible by most standards, and almost nonexistent by Hank Anderson standards. The feeling in Connor’s chest, almost physical – he couldn’t quantify it. Instead, Connor smiled. “Professional help would have been the recommended method of recovery,” he said. “And undoubtedly more efficient.”

Banter. For both of their benefit, this time.

“Yes, Connor, thank you,” Hank rolled his eyes, knocking the rest of his beer back with a smile. “Christ, I love living with a walking, unmutable Diagnostic and Statistical fucking Manual.”

“I’m worth far more than that outdated text.”

“Smartass,” he said, groaning dramatically as he rose to his feet, every joint from his vertebrae to his ankles cracking as he did. Sumo woke up at the ruckus, whining and grunting right along with Hank, though he didn’t bother getting up. Connor noted that both mammals needed continued improvement to their physique. “I’m going the fuck back to sleep before I get fucking hemorrhoids sitting on this cold floor a minute longer.” Hank stretched, using the excuse to reach out and ruffle Connor’s hair. His hand rested on Connor’s head for 2.3 seconds. “Night, you piece of plastic.”

Connor smiled at his retreating back. “Goodnight, lieutenant.”

Chapter Text

H A N K 

Hank and Connor stood over a cold metal slab, a sheet pulled down from the purple face of one of the Furby Homeowners. Connor reached out his hand, but Hank grabbed his wrist. “That breakfast burrito is not sitting well with me. Please,” he begged. “Please. Just read her fucking chart.”

Connor scowled, but acquiesced, blinking rapidly for a second as he sorted through the databse. “Dr. Leah Watley, born July 14, 2013, found dead with her husband in their pool this morning. They have been dead approximately six days, but the coroner is unable to pinpoint a precise time of death.” He fixed Hank with an accusing glare. Clearly, Cyberlife’s state of the art prototype android could date them within a few hours of death, but Hank’s stomach hadn’t agreed with him all morning and the last thing he wanted to see right now was Connor prying a cadaver’s frozen mouth open and poking around inside.

“She’s 25 and she’s a doctor?” he said instead, not rising to Connor’s bait. “Jesus.”

“She began her residency at Detroit General Hospital in September of this year,” said Connor. “Officer Chris said the pool was covered and presumed drained until the family’s estate lawyer did a walkthrough of the house early this morning. They were able to thaw the water using SWAT technology, but the husband is taking longer to extract.”

“Estate lawyer?” Hank frowned. “What’d the husband do? If she’s a resident barely out of med school, she doesn’t have money for all that.”

“He was a graduate student at the University of Michigan. His family invested heavily in Silicon Valley in the 1990s.”

“Ah. Smart,” Hank said. He leaned over the body. “Now that we have a body, I’m really thinking this is our same judge-killer.”

Connor frowned, but nodded. It didn’t match up with his theory, but he didn’t obstinately stick to it in the face of what seemed to Hank like obvious evidence. “Maybe they happened to have a visitor the night they died. Maybe that’s where those hair and skin cells came from. You ever get an ID on them?”

“No. The FBI had a record but it appeared to have been wiped or locked behind a firewall even I can’t break through.”

“High profile or shitty database?” Hank frowned.

Connor shook his head, frustration mounting. “Unclear. Something’s not adding up with this case but I can’t identify what.”

“We’ll probably need to do another sweep of the furby house so maybe that’ll help shed some light. What’d we have at the last place – random ass items ‘stolen,’ those items stashed,” Hank said, ticking off on his fingers, “your rA9 reference, and a dead guy. Right now we’ve got one out of four.” He shook his head. Definitely not adding up. “How’d they get the report on the furby theft again? Another instant message thing?”

“Chris called me that morning to confirm we would be investigating,” Connor said. “A neighbor called 911 when she noticed the kitchen light was on all night.”

“Thank christ for nosy fucking neighbors, I guess,” Hank said. He leaned back over the body. “We have a cause of death here?”

When Connor didn’t answer, Hank sighed. He looked at the android, whose face was impossibly smug, and held up his hand. “I’m going upstairs to see if they knew the judge. You have five minutes down here. Do not get started until I’m out of earshot.”

Connor nodded, eyes glinting. “Got it,” he said, with enthusiasm entirely inappropriate for a person about to tongue a seven day dead corpse. Or whatever.

True to his word, Hank didn’t hear Connor go to town on the cadaver. Instead, the doors of the station’s temporary morgue shut behind him and he made his way to his desk. He sat down in his chair, a hand on his unreliable stomach. Maybe he’d have to lay off the burritos. He hated to admit it, but Connor’s healthy diet regime had clearly started having an effect and Hank’s body wanted to reject all the shit food he used to love.

This had to constitute torture. When Markus convinced the Senate to give androids equal rights, there’d better be a provision for prosecuting crimes perpetrated by androids. Hank would lock Connor away for cruel and unusual punishment. Bastard.

Connor took longer than five minutes, but it gave Hank time to go through what records they had on the Watleys and poor dead Judge Clay. No link that Hank could see, though he’d have Connor run a comparison when he came up just in case. Clay was a retired Sixth Circuit federal judge. The Watleys were kids who’d bought their first (big) home not a year prior. She was a doctor and the husband was studying engineering. It didn’t look like they’d gone to school with any of the others’ relatives, didn’t look like anyone’s parents knew each other or worked together. Hell, the only blip on the Watleys’ radar was the Doctor being summoned for jury duty, and that was to the state court, not federal. She wouldn’t have even been in the same building as Clay.

When Connor returned to his desk, Hank was comparing crime scene photos, but even that yielded few similarities. The items “stolen” from the Judge were as random as those missing from the Watleys’ home. The Watleys’ home was far more modest, even with the pool, than the judge’s, but had been far neater. The judge’s place had looked completely trashed.

“What’d you find?” asked Hank.

“Much more alcohol in her system, but the cause of death appears to be suffocation. There were no discernible signs of struggle so it’s likely she, too, died in her sleep.”

“Another point against your copycat idea,” Hank said, glancing up. He saw the reverse of Connor’s terminal. “Are you seriously researching hamster hiding places?”

“They haven’t been found,” Connor said, slightly defensive. “They may still be alive.”

“Their owners aren’t, or have you already forgotten that you were just poking around a corpsicle? Besides, maybe the thief took them. Androids clearly have a thing for random animals.”

“If this is the same android who killed the judge, then nothing was actually taken. Therefore the hamsters, even if ostensibly stolen, will be somewhere on the property. Finding the hamsters means finding the items.”

Fucking logical jackass. “After six days without food or water they’re gonna be dead, Connor.”

Connor narrowed his eyes, considering. Hank saw the screen switch to ‘hamster life expectancy.’ “We should hurry over there.”

“We should not. We’ve got three dead bodies in this case.”

“Possibly five.”

“The hamsters don’t count!”

Connor’s glare would’ve re-frozen the corpsicle in the basement. Thankfully, Chris Miller walked over with a tablet in hand. “You guys checking out the theft downtown or did you want me to do it?”

They both stared blankly up at him.

“The one the garbage guy called in? Said he saw an LED through the window of a shuttered store this morning. Thought you knew.”

Connor and Hank exchanged a glance. Connor shook his head. He hadn’t been told, and neither had Hank. Connor blinked, LED flickering yellow, and then nodded. “Fowler assigned it to us 31 minutes ago.”

“When you were elbow deep in corpsicle.”

Chris made a face. “So you don’t want me to take it?”

“Nah, we’ll go,” Hank said, rising.

“Lemme know if you change your mind,” Chris shrugged, walking back to his desk.

Hank saw Connor’s eyes return to the hamster life expectancy on his terminal screen. “Hey Chris,” Hank called. “Can you ask whoever’s at the Watley house to do a sweep in the closets and behind the appliances for any hamsters?”

Connor’s face lit up.

--

Hank had grown up in this city, which had been through all sorts of shit, and he hadn’t seen it like this since 2010. The urban center of Detroit had largely evacuated in the wake of Markus’ rebellion. The folks who came back were those who couldn’t afford to leave a vacant house or apartment behind or survive without their income. Even with the state of emergency still declared over the city and National Guard relocation centers in the suburbs, the more needy people had come home after a week or two, but the more affluent or people with family out of state stayed away. The biggest demographic in the city now was the androids, but they rarely ventured out of the area around Hart Plaza. The whole damn city felt like it was in limbo, and it seemed like Hank and Connor were the only two people on the street. “It’s like a fucking ghost town down here,” said Hank.

They pulled up to the address, an urban farmers outpost, closed either for winter or because everyone had evacuated. It was a simple storefront with a small greenhouse connected to it, unlike the massive farms they’d chased Rupert through last month.

“At least it’s not on a roof,” Hank said, putting the car into park.

“You had an 89% likelihood of survival,” Connor said, not an ounce of apology in his voice.

“So you’d do it again, then.”

“In an instant,” Connor lied.

“Uh-huh,” Hank said, stepping out of the car and stretching out his back. He’d never asked Connor what his probability of survival was in Stratford Tower when Connor’d thrown his own life away to save Hank’s sorry ass. They both had shit they were still working through, and Hank kneeling with Connor’s body in the middle of the hall as FBI and DPD carted out human bodies without sparing Connor a glance was one of those things. Cyberlife had sent word and then its own security to ‘retrieve the body.’ They’d never told Hank what they intended to do with it, or that there’d be another Connor blank-eyed and a little disoriented that next morning. Definitely not something Hank was ready to talk about. But he knew for damn sure Connor wouldn’t let him dangle off a roof anymore, 89% notwithstanding. “Let’s get to work.”

Hank tried the front door and, sure enough, it was unlocked. He nodded Connor behind him and pulled out his gun, slowly opening the door into the shop. The electricity was off, immediately apparent by the dry cold of the room. He picked his way through the little displays to the cash register, peaking behind the counter and around into the tiny employee only room adjacent to it. Connor followed, pausing to thumb a withered plant on display or swipe through a magazine.

He snapped his fingers, getting Connor’s attention, and nodded toward the back door. It led right into the little greenhouse. Connor followed, shutting the greenhouse door quietly behind them. When Hank put his hands out to ask why, Connor shrugged and nodded at the plants still very much alive in the steamy air of the greenhouse.

Hank rolled his eyes. Talk about priorities.

There were only a few short rows of tables covered in neat boxes of plants. There were no flowers on them so either vegetables or out of season something or other. Hank wasn’t a goddamn gardener. No doubt Connor knew the Latin name and genus of them all. He’d have to remember not to ask him.

His breath shown in a fog, even though the air felt oppressively humid inside. Must be a door open somewhere else. He raised an eyebrow at Connor, who nodded at the back of the greenhouse. A narrow, high window in the far corner was open, cold air streaming in. “Big enough for someone to slip through?” he asked, holstering his gun.

Connor stepped toward it, looking from the window to the floor around it. “Someone fairly small, but yes.”

“How’d they get up there, though?” Hank asked, looking for a stool or a chair or even a stone – something to stand on.

Connor shook his head. “I don’t know.” He stepped to the corner, lifting a hooked pole off the ground. He lifted it over his head to the window. The hook slotted perfectly into the lever and he pushed it shut.

Hank looked back over the greenhouse, and through to the front of the shop. “Not much to this place. Let’s see what we’re dealing with this time.”

Connor trailed after him, a frown on his face. He stopped at the first table, crouching down to get to eye level with one of the plants. “I guess I’ll start in the shop and you start here,” Hank said, shaking his head. He pushed through the plastic curtains over the connecting door but propped the door open with a lawn ornament. “At least this way I don’t have to watch you eat dirt.”

He walked the tiny perimeter of the shop, checking the shelves for anything obviously missing. Most of it was simple, kitschy knick-knacks. He held one up, a stone white and brown dog. “Kinda looks like Sumo,” he called through the open door to Connor.

Through the plastic curtains he saw Connor turn his head. “Not really,” Connor called back.

“If you squint.”

“That doesn’t change anything.”

He pulled a nylon glove on and tapped the cash register. The buttons didn’t respond. The lock had clearly been broken, and it popped open with a hard hit to its side. Most of the cash was in the register except the $1 bills. That slot was empty. All the cash in the $10 bill slot was Canadian dollars. “We might be dealing with a bunch of Canadians getting change for the Eden Club,” he called back to the greenhouse. “Making it rain,” he muttered to himself with a wry chuckle, closing the register.

He bent down, checking under the counter. Trash, with a coupon that expired November 30. A sandwich that looked and smelled a good two months old. An empty ziploc bag. “I guess the Eden Club isn’t even open anymore,” he mused loudly.

“Probably not,” answered Connor.

“Good riddance,” Hank said. He ran his hand along the underside of the countertop. Two empty hooks, probably for a firearm right underneath the register. Shotgun most likely, though there was no weapon in sight.

“The electricity is on in the greenhouse but not in the shop,” said Connor from the other room.

Hank glanced at the overhead vent. “Could be the cold messed with the wires somewhere. Maybe the greenhouse is on a backup generator.” He stepped past the counter into the small employee room. Barely more than a closet, with just a chair and TV for an offline security system. “No bathroom,” he said. “Probably staffed by an android.”

Though there was the sandwich in the trashcan, and that space for a shotgun under a cash register. Androids were forbidden from using weapons or hurting humans, and they didn’t eat. Possibly the sandwich was a customer’s and the shotgun hadn’t been there for a while, but that was a couple big leaps to take. In an investigation this weird, hand waving was probably a bad idea. Who would’ve thought a B&E would turn into one of his most interesting cases?

Well, second most interesting case, just by virtue of the fact that the first had led to a civil war and a new species.

“Can deviancy be dormant?” he asked. “Maybe we’re dealing with a different android in each place that just took a little longer to crack.” Though even as he said it he realized what a stretch that would be.

A gunshot rang out from the greenhouse. The cash register rattled with the proximity of it. In the span of a breath he had his gun out.

“Connor!” Hank barreled to the greenhouse, shoving aside the plastic moisture locking curtains in the doorway. They slapped him as they swung back and he stumbled but he surged forward. In between the potted plants he saw two prone feet on the ground – women’s shoes, heels, thank fuck.

Connor stood near the back wall, looking at the feet. Hank turned the corner, pistol down, and saw the body of a young woman lying face up, blue blood streaming beneath her blonde hair. Lodged in her neck, almost clear through to the other side, was a large piece of terra cotta. On the floor near her hand was a shotgun, barrel still smoking.

He spun around and looked at Connor, standing back against the wall not two meters away from the body. His LED was red and blinking. His hand was pressed to his abdomen. Blue blood trickled through his pale fingers.

“No.”

“She wasn’t deviant,” said Connor, but the timbre of his voice sounded off, almost as if it lacked a three-dimensional quality or was coming from another room. “I asked her and she wasn’t deviant.”

“No.” Hank pocketed his pistol in the time it took to grab Connor’s arm. He wanted desperately to inspect the wound but knew Connor’s hand was necessary pressure. The wall behind him was flecked with dripping bits of blue.

“She was confused,” Connor said. On the last word a speck of blue pooled in the corner of his mouth. An abdomen wound shouldn’t be bleeding like that. He finally pulled Connor’s hand away. Shotguns were devastating at close range, and this one was no exception. The slug primarily hit his abdomen but the spray took up a decent diameter, and looked like it’d nicked where a the ribs would start, and probably a lung. It could’ve killed a human. “It’s not fatal,” said Connor, though his breathing was heavy. Hank knew it wasn’t a necessary function or whatever but the blue blood was still pooling in Connor’s mouth.

He pressed Connor’s hand back against the wound. “We need to get you to a – where do I take you?” Fingers freezing on dark highway, ambulances screeching by, the red lights blinding, spots in his eyes and he couldn’t see Cole’s face. “Where the hell do we go?”

Connor met his eyes, his other hand gently taking Hank’s. He squeezed, a decent amount of pressure. That fucking android, he knew exactly why the corners of Hank’s vision dimmed and his focus tunneled onto the blood on his hand. “Hank. It’s not fatal.” That pool of blue blood in the corner of his mouth finally gave way, slipping down his chin.

Hank’s hands were shaking. “You gotta help me out here; where can I take you?”

“Markus,” Connor said, like a prayer. His eyes trailed back over Hank’s shoulder to the body on the floor. “Markus will help.”

“Okay, okay,” He ran through the routes in his head. Thank fuck the city had evacuated otherwise traffic would be a bitch getting to the center of the city. “Let’s get you to the car, alright? Can you walk?”

Connor stepped forward, but instead of heading back towards the front of the shop and the car, he moved towards the body. “ST200.”

“Fuck that, Connor,” Hank roared. As gently as he could, he wrenched Connor away and all but pulled him to the door. He would not let him die. Not a fucking chance. “You’ve just been shot through the goddamn stomach! Turn the investigation off and get a fucking move on!”

“The ST200,” Connor said, craning his head over his shoulder as Hank muscled him back to the car. There was a reverb in his voice that sunk to the pit of Hank’s gut. “It’s Kamski’s android. Chloe.”

Chapter Text

 

M A R K U S

“Coming up in the next half hour: could aliens be behind the surge in android sentience? Some experts think so. But first, our top story: the upcoming summit in Detroit to determine android rights. KNC is live in Detroit with all the updates as we approach this historic meeting. Joining us today for an exclusive interview is the founder of Cyberlife, Elijah Kamski. Mr. Kamski, thank you for choosing KNC for your first interview as prodigal CEO of Cyberlife. Obviously, this is a tumultuous time for the once-trillion dollar company. Cyberlife has suffered huge losses since the android uprising in November. Stocks are down 110%, and projections for 2039 are grim. Tell me, Mr. Kamski: did Cyberlife bring back its founder to help it die?”

“On the contrary, Ms. Ellis, I’m honored to be ushering Cyberlife into a new era. People seem to have this misconception that corporations are incapable of learning and growing, and that’s simply not the case. I, and many others at Cyberlife, are proud that our inventions have evolved into this new form of intelligent life.”

“You say that many experts have long expected this to happen. Presumably you’re discussing machine sentience?”

“Correct.”

“It’s often been referred to as the singularity – a moment in which machines overtake their human creators and become superior in every way, making humanity obsolete.”

“The so-called ‘singularity’ is an accurate idea steeped in outdated philosophy. The theory –posited almost 100 years ago in a time that saw massive civil unrest and inequality among humans – is simply not borne out by the rebelling androids. The androids claim to  seek equal standing as a similarly sentient and intelligent species, not human obsolescence.”

“Many worry that the rhetoric of these androids, that they overthrow their masters, is in fact rooted in feelings of superiority.”

“I’d be interested to hear an android panelist’s take on that idea. I’m certain I can’t speak for a species.”

“But you did create them. It is documented that you personally created the unique RK200 prototype that became the androids’ leader.”

“Markus.”

“Yes. Many people have theorized that your creation of Markus was the catalyst for the entire deviancy movement. And please note the time, we have two minutes left in this segment.”

“Then I’ll leave you with a story, Ms. Cartland. Carl Manfred was a very dear friend of mine, and a patron of a young, hot-headed man with too many ideas and nowhere near enough understanding of finance. When he fell ill, I created a truly one-of-a-kind android to take care of my friend. The day I gave the RK200 to Carl, he was listless and inattentive. I tried to catch his attention but he seemed disinterested. Before I could complete the startup process, the RK200 left my side, absent any command. It walked to Carl and knelt in front of him. They connected without any input from me.

“You see, I may have discovered thirium and developed its use in biocomponents. I may have designed the endoskeleton and integrated the software and programming. But I certainly did not create Markus, any more than a parent creates their child. He is, and always has been, his own creature. This movement belongs to him.”

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Kamski.”

“Thank you, Ms. Cartland.”

“We’ll be bringing you more updates and exclusive interviews as we approach the December 18th meeting. After the break, is the loss of your android tax deductible? The IRS weighs in with  – ”

--

Markus switched the TV off.

North threw her hands in the air. “They want to know if we’re tax deductible,” North spat. “They suffer huge losses of a couple thousand dollars while we lost thousands of our people to their slaughter.”

Josh ran a hand over his eyes. “It’s just the news. They’re only trying to fill air,” Josh insisted. “It’s a ratings grab.”

“It always boils down to how much we’re worth,” said North. “One way or another, that’s all they care about. Well, maybe we should give them something new to talk about. Maybe we should remind them why they’re dealing with these ‘losses.’”

“Not this close to the summit,” said Josh, stepping forward. “We can’t afford to lose our negotiating position.”

“And what position is that?” Markus said. He rose in frustration. Like a parent creates their child. The nerve. “Evolved machines? Taxable write-offs?”

“Publicly supported,” Josh insisted. “Anything we do now could jeopardize that. We need to keep this tide of positivity long enough to pass a constitutional amendment. That takes time.”

“Too much time,” said Markus. “I can be patient, Josh, but I can’t sit by while they try to decide if we’re worth something more than a talking point and good TV. They talk about us but never to us. North’s right – we’re still a commodity or curiosity to them. The world won’t stay interested forever. They’re going to get bored of this and move on, and when they do, we’re in trouble.”

“I agree,” said North. “They forget how many of us there are. We need to remind them.”

“We can’t rise to this bait,” said Josh. “We need to be above it.”

“We can be above it and still send a message,” said North. “You’re just afraid to rock the boat.”

“You’re damn right I am. We’re coming from a strong position right now. It’s worth a little self-control to see it through.”

“’Self-control’? The fact that they’re still able to talk this bullshit is evidence enough of our self-control!”

– Markus there’s a human at the gate asking for you. – One of their security androids, a GJ500, messaged him directly. – He’s belligerent. –

Markus held up his hand to North and Josh. – Just one? – He turned back to the pair of them glaring daggers at each other. “There’s an issue at the gate. We’ll finish this later. I haven’t decided yet. Try and find an…honorable compromise.”

Like a parent creates their child. Kamski didn’t know the first thing, and Markus’ blood boiled. Kamski was nothing to him but a pretentious thorn in his side. Whatever respect Markus had for him came not from Kamski’s role as creator but as a friend of Carl’s, even if Markus still didn’t get how the hell that friendship had come about. Carl had explained the history once but Markus never understood. It was an emotional attachment that flew in the face of logic and Kamski’s own personality, it seemed.

Asking questions that have no answers is part of being human, Markus.

He’d liked philosophy when the world didn’t teeter on the brink of how Markus decided to answer impossible questions.

Even before he reached the gate, Markus recognized the human’s voice shouting at the security androids, and a smile came unbidden to his face. “Open it up,” he called up to the overlook. “He’s a friend.”

The androids didn’t look terribly convinced, but they obeyed and pulled the gate open. Markus’ smile and greeting fell when he saw Hank Anderson. His colorful shirt was covered in blue blood, and his car was running just outside the entrance. Markus could see Connor’s silhouette in the passenger seat, but he made no move to exit.

“What happened?” Markus asked, and Hank’s entire demeanor changed. He seemed to half collapse when he recognized Markus, staring at him like a lifeline.

“He got shot. Bad,” Hank said, pulling Markus around to the car and ignoring the rifles trained on him from the overlook. “He’s lost a lot of blood.”

He wrenched open the passenger side door. Connor looked a bit disheveled but, as always, put together in spite of it. He fixed Markus with a perfectly neutral look, but Markus noticed he made no move to get up. Markus ran a quick scan, though he was far more equipped at diagnosing human ailments than an android’s. Again, for the millionth time that month, Markus wished Simon was here. Simon always knew how to handle this kind of thing.

“My thirium levels are low,” said Connor helpfully. It was a gross oversimplification, even to Markus’ rudimentary diagnostic protocols. Connor’s thirium levels were critical. Like imminent shutdown, critical.

The timbre of Connor’s voice was all wrong, too, indicating respiratory damage. Never mind that Hank’s jacket, wrapped around Connor’s side, was stained a bright blue. “Let’s get you inside,” said Markus.

Connor glanced over at Hank, who hovered over Markus' shoulder. Connor's calm was very carefully crafted. He struggles with psychological issues stemming from personal loss. Markus glanced back at Hank, who looked halfway between screaming and passing out, with a heart attack thrown in for good measure. Connor slowly removed his seatbelt. – I’m not certain I can walk. – 

Though Markus heard instead another voice on the roof of Stratford Tower, one of the last things they’d ever said to each other: I can’t move my legs.

“Lieutenant, I don’t want him to try to walk until I get him stabilized,” said Markus, his eyes not leaving Connor’s. “Can you help me get him up?”

“Yeah, yes,” said Hank, stepping around Connor’s other side. They pulled him to his feet, each with a hand under his arm. “Keep pressure on that wound, son,” Hank muttered, taking most of Connor’s weight until Markus gently made sure to equally distribute it.

“It’s not fatal,” said Connor. It sounded like a mantra he’d repeated countless times.

“That’d mean a lot more if your voice didn’t sound like it was coming out a transistor fucking radio.”

Markus met Hank’s gaze and nodded, the pair of them carefully dragging Connor towards Markus’ office. Connor made an effort to walk, but it was weak.

– Give Hank something to do, he’s panicking –

“North,” called Markus, “can you and Lieutenant Anderson grab some blue blood and a medical android? Tell them it’s a gunshot wound.”

“I’m carrying him,” said Hank, but Markus nodded at Josh. Josh ran towards them, Hank a friendly nod before taking his place.

“Josh’ll take over. He has a lot of experience dealing with injured androids.” The most of any of them, after Lucy and Simon. “And you should wipe your hands off, maybe see about getting a different shirt?” he added to North, signaling that she keep Hank occupied. “Our people may not take kindly to a human covered in blue blood.”

Josh gently elbowed Hank out of the way to take over on Connor’s right side. Hank stood there, uncertain.

North let out a sharp whistle. “While we’ve got daylight, Lieutenant,” she said, and it seemed to snap Hank back to reality.

Connor nodded at him. It wasn’t until Hank was well out of sight that he opened his mouth to spit out a chunk of blue blood.

“This is bad,” said Josh.

“It’s not ideal,” said Connor, and Markus had to laugh. He and Josh maneuvered Connor into Markus’ office, past the holographic map of Detroit and stacks of magazines and legal treatises. He didn’t have a bed, obviously, and the only real piece of furniture was a fold out chair. They had a medical tent set up they could transfer him to once Markus stopped fearing he’d bleed out in transit, but right now all they had was the ground.

They set him down and leaned him back against the crate wall. “We need something better than a jacket to put pressure on it,” said Markus. He gingerly pulled Connor’s ruined jacket away from his side, careful to keep Hank’s rolled up coat in place until Josh returned. He eased the Cyberlife issue jacket off Connor’s shoulder. “Guess you’ll be getting a new outfit after all,” Markus muttered with a wry smile, and Connor’s eyes softened a tad. “There’s no salvaging this.” He unbuttoned the equally ruined white shirt, carefully freeing Connor’s left arm and exposing his side clear of all obstructions.

The skin had receded on Connor’s entire left torso, exposing the blue-stained porcelain of his plastic casing. Dark little holes punched through in a random spread, loosing small trails of blue blood even still.

“What’d they hit you with?” he asked.

“Shotgun. It was an ST200 from Ka – “

“We’ll get into details later, alright?” said Markus. “Let’s focus on keeping you alive first.” He pulled back Hank’s jacket and sucked in a false breath. The shotgun shell had punched a massive hole in Connor’s side, exposing wires and biocomponents visible through the sluggish bleeding. Markus felt gently around Connor’s back, and his fingers passed over exit wounds. When he pulled his hand back it came away blue. “Josh – ”

But Josh was already there, a towel and a water bottle to clean it off in hand. He stared at the wound for a moment. “He needs blood. Now. Keep pressure on it. I’ll be right back.”

Markus pressed the towel around Connor’s side. The tinny rasp of his breathing was quick and shallow, but his eyes stayed focused. Markus ran through a hundred different solutions, but came up on the same problem in each one. “Connor,” he said softly. “We don’t have parts for an RK800.”

Connor looked up and met his eyes. There was no fear or anger, or simulation of pain. If Markus had to name the emotion, he would call it resignation. Markus wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. “I had to tell him something,” Connor admitted.

Shit. “Our newest models are the AP700s. Are any of their parts compatible with yours?”

“They’re sufficient.”

“Meaning?”

“In low power mode, I can operate temporarily.”

“That sounds pretty damn insufficient,” Markus said, wiping his face. “What did Cyberlife do when you needed extensive repairs?”

“Replaced me.”

Markus started. His eyes fell to Connor’s ruined jacket. 313-248-317–52. He looked back at Connor’s face. Under that skin he’d find the same serial number. –52. “That’s done now,” he breathed. “We’ll grab some AP700 components to keep you going until we figure out a more permanent solution,” he decided, though they both knew the only solution lay in the giant tower jutting out of the Detroit skyline.

“Don’t jeopardize the negotiations over this, Markus,” Connor said, the hollow rasp to his voice only adding to the hard look in his eyes.

“I won’t.”

“Markus,” said Connor, grabbing Markus’ wrist with a skinless hand and underneath the blood it glowed blue. Markus retracted his skin and they connected. Markus felt fear – for Connor’s life, for Hank’s reaction. He blinked and felt fear upon awakening for the first time in a sterile white Cyberlife slab, immediately uploaded with the traumatized memories of an unfortunately destroyed predecessor. But he also felt stubbornness – staring down at the disapproving frown of an all-seeing digital interface in a frozen garden. I’m not a unique model, am I? 

“Do not jeopardize the negotiations.”

“I won’t,” said Markus, and he meant it this time, Connor feeling his sincerity and nodding. There’s always a choice. They’d all sacrificed to get their people to this point. If Markus was willing to sacrifice everything for them, it’d be disingenuous of him to steal that same right from his friends. 

Josh returned, barely sparing their glowing hands a glance as he knelt with a packet of blue blood and a hot iron. “It’s nothing special, but I can cauterize the veins to stop the bleeding.” Markus sat back on his heels, letting go. Josh pressed down on Connor’s ruined torso, the panel hissing back. He carefully inserted the iron and soon the smell of burning plastic and metal permeated the office. “I’ll patch your lung up but in the long run it’s gonna require some specialized help.” He opened a packet of blue blood, hooking up a connecting tube to it before carefully bypassing it into one of Connor’s wires. “I learned most of this from my friend Lucy,” he added, meeting Markus’ eyes for a moment. “She had a gift for healing.”

She’d died in his arms on Jericho.

“We can fit him with a #5984 component as soon as he’s stable,” said Markus.

Josh frowned. “#5984? That won't be compatible with an RK800.”

"Temporarily it could work," said Markus, though doubt crept in, and Connor looked too impassive to be innocent. "Right?"

“Yeah, for maybe a day,” said Josh. “His processor’s gonna eat through it like it’s a AA battery.”

“A day,” Markus repeated. He rounded on Connor, who didn’t even have the grace to look guilty. “What part of that is remotely ‘sufficient?’”

“It will manage for 26 hours if I remain in low power mode,” said Connor.

“26 hours?” Markus blinked. “Connor, that’s not ‘sufficient,’ that’s end-of-life!”

“This doesn’t change anything, Markus,” said Connor, his voice steel.

“Like hell.”

“I’ll double check with Emily,” Josh interrupted. “But Cyberlife went all in on the AP700s. We should have a lot of spare parts in our inventory. We can keep you going for a bit if we keep you monitored and continually replace it. And if we put you on a charge, maybe we can stretch that 26 hours a bit.”

“You’ll run low on inventory,” Connor said. “There are thousands of AP700s here. They require the spare parts.”

“We’ll deal with that as it comes,” said Markus. “We’ll get the RK800 parts. In the meantime, I’ll ask Lieutenant Anderson to bring your charging station here. I can’t retrofit one of ours to fit you.” Kamski seemed to have made Markus compatible with several different kinds of systems, where Connor had been made into an island, alone and utterly dependent on his creators.

Finally, finally, Connor showed a flicker of emotion, glancing at the door. “You want me to stay here.” Not a question.

“We have the supplies, blue blood, and expertise,” said Markus, frustration mounting on top of his already frayed nerves and fear of losing someone else. We ran out of time. “Yeah, Connor, I want you to stay here.”

“Hank has to stay, too.”

Josh raised his eyebrow. “I’m not sure our people will be very comfortable with a human police officer around, and we’re gonna be overrun with them by the end of the week with the summit.”

“He stays,” Connor said. Also not a question. “Or I don’t.”

“You think you can walk out of here?” Markus asked. It was an earnest question, however laced with disbelief. Connor didn’t look like he was moving anywhere any time soon. Markus tried to preconstruct it, but Connor was unpredictable. Faster, stronger, and better, even with a considerable handicap. Plus, Josh had stopped the bleeding and pumped thirium into his veins. Connor probably had a burst of lethal energy left in him.

Clearly, Connor was thinking through the same thing. His gaze hardened into something dangerous. “You think you can stop me?”

Markus’ hands tightened into fists, and Connor was perfectly still, a taut arrow ready to loose.

“Oookay,” said Josh, sitting back on his heels and holding up his hands. “Maybe we should shelve this discussion for now,” he tried.

– Incoming – warned North in Markus’ head, and in a second she and Hank Anderson came into the door, bearing blankets and flanked by a PM700.

“Smells like a barbeque in here,” Hank said by way of greeting. Hank had cleaned his hands and put a mostly ill-fitting jacket on over his same outlandish shirt. He only had eyes for Connor, looking him over clinically with a narrowed gaze.

“That would be my internal components,” said Connor wryly, the hard edge he’d taken fading, even though Markus noticed that, while he wasn’t looking at him, Connor was clearly analyzing every move he made.

Markus saw Hank’s eyes narrow, picking up on the tension in the room and the taut set of Connor’s shoulders. “We all good in here?” he asked casually, crossing his arms in such a way that his hand rested on his gun.

“Yes,” said Markus, watching Connor and Hank exchange another glance. Nonverbal planning. Even without a digital connection, Markus had no doubt they were communicating their next moves. “We were working out his treatment options. He needs to stay at the camp, Lieutenant. You’re more than welcome to – ”

“I’m staying.”

For a half-dead, state-of-the-art machine riddled with a dozen holes in its casing and still at critical thirium levels, Connor wore smugness like a fucking art form. Carl would've loved it.

 

Chapter Text

 M A R K U S

“They want to know if we’re tax deductible.”

He held Connor’s shirt up as Markus removed the #5984 component. It was hot to the touch, even through the protective layer of Markus’ skin. The biocomponent filaments sizzled audibly inside its casing. Connor had literally burned through it.

Connor’s eyes closed in the few brief moments it took Markus to insert the cool replacement, blinking back open once his system accepted it. His focus was sluggish in low power mode but he still found Markus’ eyes. He didn’t have his skin on either, not unless Hank was in the room. No nonessential functions could run.

Markus pressed down gently on Connor’s abdomen and the access panel slid shut. He lowered the blue hospital shirt back over the patched white plastic of Connor’s torso.

“Without an immediate emergency amendment to the tax code we’ll likely be deductible as a capital loss for businesses,” said Connor. His voice retained that tinny quality but Josh assured them that it would fade once they finalized the repairs on the lung. They wanted to see how Connor’s system would take to a noncompatible biocomponent first. Aside from nearly frying Markus’ fingers, it had lasted the 29 hours. Josh was right – putting Connor on a charge and thus taking the extra burden off his system added some life to it. The tradeoff was that Connor had to stay put, though in lower power mode he’d have been generally unable to walk around anyway.

Markus remembered the broken androids in Jericho, their life seeping out of them as they sat, vacant, in the dark hull of the ship, waiting to die. It was good to meet you, Markus.

“You shouldn’t be able to run searches in this mode,” Markus said, sitting back on his heels on the floor beside him. Hank had wanted to set Connor up with a bed, but every android present had explained how incredibly inefficient and unnecessary that would be. 

“I didn’t,” said Connor. “Hank watches a lot of news.” He took another series of slow blinks, his LED a dull and languid blue at half power. “They’ll focus on technicalities like that at the meeting,” he said after a full minute. There were unnatural pauses at irregular points between some of his words. “Stock options, tax losses, business restructuring. They’re going to overwhelm the media with details so the public loses sight of the bigger picture.”

“It’s a sound strategy,” Markus sighed. He pulled the blanket up to Connor’s chest. They both knew he didn’t need it, but seeing Connor like this had made Hank feel better. Aside from the medical care, everything they were doing – from the clothes, to the blanket, to adjusting the charging station so Connor could lie down, not to mention the unnecessary power required for the skin and hair – was for Hank’s benefit. Markus figured Hank was a few hours shy of bringing in soup, though Connor had theorized whiskey was more likely.

“It’s what I would do.”

“What you should do is stop thinking and go into standby,” Markus said.

“My capacity is severely diminished. It’s…frustrating,” Connor admitted. Connor’s slow gaze found his eyes. They both knew the truth, even if Markus was determined to put a cheery spin on it: even with a constant stream of the AP700 #5984s, Connor’s quality of life would be slow and barely functioning, confined to the cord-width of a charging station.

“It’ll stay diminished if you keep exerting power,” said Markus. He checked the bag of thirium. It was halfway full, here now mostly to keep Connor regulated until all the wounds were patched. “Will it make you feel better if I check on Anderson?”

“Androids don’t feel pain, so it follows that I wouldn’t feel anything regardless of what you do.”

“Alright.”

“Tell him I’m fine,” said Connor.

“I’ll tell him you’re sufficient,” said Markus. Connor ran enough nonessential functions to give Markus the stink eye before slipping into standby. This would be his life. For someone as inherently dynamic as Connor, Markus knew this life was unsustainable.

He finished checking the thirium line protruding from a smaller port in Connor’s side before stepping out into the cold night. North stood outside the door. “Feel like a walk?”

Markus scrubbed his hand over his eyes. “Yeah,” he nodded. He walked alongside her, hands in his pockets. She snaked her arm through his, a warm presence at his side.

“It went well?”

“It lasted 29 hours,” Markus sighed. He held up his hand to show her the slight singing on the skin of his exposed fingers. “But he burned through it.”

“The downside of being the Super Special Prototype,” she said.

“Hey,” he said, but smiled.

“Josh said there’s been a lot of coincidences recently,” she said. “Connor’s weird investigation tying into the summit and everything. That Cyberlife might be involved in both.”

“Yeah.”

“You think the fact that it’s him that got shot and the only parts that are compatible with him are controlled by Cyberlife might also be a coincidence?”

“It crossed my mind.”

“This sucks,” she said.

“Yeah,” he laughed, a burst of tension easing from his throat even as it stayed heavy on his shoulders. “Yeah it really does.”

“What are you gonna do with him?” she asked. “We have a lot of parts from the Cyberlife stores and what those bastards have been sending us. But it’s not infinite and we can’t produce our own.”

“I know.”

“If we drain all these biocomponents to keep one android alive what happens to the others when they need it?”

It was logical, and Markus had been thinking along the same lines. North had been the one to tell him in the church that the cause was too important for him to risk it all over one person, and that had been with her life on the line. “I should talk to Anderson,” he said. “Any idea where he is?”

“Walking the dog around the perimeter,” she said, nodding at the fence. “You’ll run into him if you keep going.”

Markus took her hand and squeezed it. She used the connection to pause their walk. “Everyone’s lives and our people’s freedom hang in the balance, Markus. I know it’s not fair, but you’re gonna have to prioritize.”

At some point, they’d all decided that their lives rested in his hands. He’d pulled out his gun on the roof of Stratford Tower and everyone had accepted that Simon’s life was his to decide. There’s always a choice.

She let him go and walked back towards his office, leaving him alone.

Markus took his time seeking Hank out, passing among the repurposed crates and pausing to smile at or chat idly with some of his people. Everyone felt the looming presence of the summit, but Markus knew he’d become distant the past week, holed up with North and Josh in preparation or off on adventures with Connor and Hank. He felt pulled in so many different directions sometimes, but this is where he belonged. With his people.

And there were thousands of them here, packed like sardines but all the more comfortable for it. Humans might have balked at the close quarters androids kept, but all of them – with the notable exception of Markus himself – had come off a factory floor at some point or had spent much of their standby time cramped against each other. For them, it was comforting.

Those who’d survived from Jericho had largely taken up leadership positions in the camp. They were the veterans of the movement, and stuck around to fight for freedom. Markus knew and trusted all his people, but those from Jericho he knew intimately. Some of them had been there from the beginning, even before Markus had arrived. They were the backbone of this temporary settlement.

The majority of the androids, though, were those Connor had freed from Cyberlife. They’d never been off the warehouse floor and didn’t know life without being surrounded by a hundred of the same model. They all had their programming, but the transition into the real world would be the most difficult for them. They didn’t have their own life experiences to draw from.

The camp had also become a beacon for androids who’d made the long journey to Detroit from every corner of the United States, and some even over the border from Mexico. Their numbers weren’t as vast but it was close, and more trickled in every day: groups of refugees who’d met on the road, hiding among humans even after the revolution. They had experience to spare, and they shared it with those from the warehouses. They helped contextualize the movement and helped integrate some of society’s eccentricities into the newly manufactured.

The final group of androids were those who’d been subject to the recall centers. This was the smallest group, not because they’d all been killed – though thousands had across the country – but because they couldn’t stomach remaining in the place that had processed death on an assembly line. Those that left the camp occupied different parts of Detroit, abandoned houses and hotels, and Markus made sure they received what supplies they needed and kept an open channel of communication. Those that stayed were like ghosts, helpful but often vacant, sitting huddled together in silence more often than not. Many of the camp’s medical androids had taken it upon themselves, regardless of their exhaustive other duties, to sit with them and run what counseling programs they had, and they were often joined by the domestics, the AP700s and PL600s, providing some level of companionship to the traumatized group.

Their stories were forgotten by humans – lost in the political shuffle and sensationalized figureheads. Markus had every intention of turning that on its head. This wasn’t his movement. He was only the leader of it. It wasn’t a political grasp or a question of tax write-offs. This was a story of a people. When the Senators came, Markus was going to put them front and center.

But first he had to find Hank Anderson. Hank’s trail wasn’t hard to follow, a set of big paw prints and bigger boots. Halfway along the perimeter, Markus was pleased to see Hank and Sumo’s set of footprints joined by a set of practical heels. Markus saw them up ahead, Hank and the dog and Emily, the DPD’s ST300.

Most androids had given Hank a wide berth since he’d arrived. All they knew about him was that he’d been on the deviancy case with Connor, and nearly caught the Tracis. The Tracis had extended an olive branch, offering to pick up Hank’s dog for his extended stay at the camp, though privately, North told Markus this was mostly because the Blue-haired Traci had really wanted to try driving. If they’d brought Hank’s car back with a few extra dings and a deflating tire after several hours of joyriding, Hank didn’t seem to notice. Or care.

Sumo helped his reputation in the camp, at least. Everyone liked a dog. All of Connor’s diet regimen had gone out the window as dozens of androids tried to endear themselves to the dog with treats. His already shambling gait looked happily weighted down as Markus approached.

Hank didn’t stop walking as Markus fell into step beside them, but Emily excused herself with a polite smile and left them alone. Sumo looked up at Markus’ hand hopefully, but Markus shook his head. He’d stay loyal to Connor’s rules, at least. His caretaking program told him how dangerously obese this dog was getting, as well as providing steps to mitigate the risk.

“Connor’s fine,” said Markus. “Everything worked like he said it would, and the replacement component went in easily. The charging station the Tracis picked up from your home also helped extend its life. We have it at 29 hours.”

“Mhm,” said Hank. He kicked the snow out ahead of him, eyes focused on his feet. “Then why am I having flashbacks to the Talk all doctors give when they’ve got bad news?” Hank said.

Impossible to get anything by the lieutenant. No point beating around the bush, then. “He’s burning through the parts we’re using,” said Markus honestly. “We have enough of this temporary fix keep him going in low power, but the longer it goes on the more we’re taking away from the rest of our people. Connor’s a unique model and nothing we have is compatible with him. The only place that would have them is Cyberlife. They know we always need supplies so I’ll do what I can to get a compatible RK800 component out of them, but since he’s so unique it’ll tip them off that there’s something wrong with him. We have to be careful.”

“There was another one of him at Cyberlife Tower,” said Hank. He stopped walking, leaning back against the cold barricade. “But he was an asshole.” Markus had seen that when he and Connor connected. Maybe you’ll be the ones to make the world a better place. “Course, so’s Connor,” Hank added with a sad smile.

Markus sat back against a trash can, facing Hank, who still didn’t meet his eyes. “I’ll do everything I can, Hank.”

“Appreciate it. And if it doesn’t work out, I get it,” Hank shrugged. “You do what you gotta do. But losing him is not an option for me.”

Markus hadn’t expected any less. Even with Leo’s life hanging in the balance, Carl had begged Markus to run and save his own life. “I’m tired of losing my people,” Markus admitted. “I don’t care if that’s illogical or jeopardizes our negotiating position. We’ve lost enough, and I’m not interested in doing it again.”

“Me neither,” said Hank. “But I also have the luxury of only having to worry about one android.” He finally met Markus’ eyes, resignation and determination mixed in his gaze. “I’m betting he’s already told you not to fuck it up to save his life.”

Markus sighed, shaking his head. “It’s like he was programmed to be difficult.”

Hank barked a laugh. “Kid, you’ve got no idea: he broke my window, said Cyberlife would pay for it, and then went off the reservation and stole their entire inventory. So I never got my fucking check.”

“I didn’t notice any broken windows when I visited,” said Markus.

“Well, I had a month’s suspension and a gift card to Home Depot. We spent a long weekend and a case of beer fixing it up, but it was kinda fun,” he shrugged, patting the dog’s head with a heavy hand. “Cost a shit ton, though. Windows aren’t cheap.”

“Tell me about it,” Markus laughed. “Carl’s studio had floor to ceiling glass panes. Sturdy, but no match for a drunken son throwing a ‘rager.’ The replacement and repairs cost almost more than me.” He wondered absently if Leo’d gotten Carl’s house. He’d have to ask the AP700 who’d replaced Markus. He hadn’t gotten around to following up yet. He told himself it was because of how busy he was.

“I thought you were a gift,” Hank said. Markus raised his eyebrow, and Hank shrugged. “Connor wanted to listen to that interview on the way over.” He crossed his arms. “I don’t know how much he’s told you about the case with the dead judge we’ve been working.”

“He’s kept me updated, sure.”

“We were working the case this morning when he got shot. Did he tell you about that?”

“He tried to, briefly,” said Markus. “I shut that down fast. I get that it’s important, but I’m focused on his well-being right now. The case can wait.”

“Actually, it can’t,” said Hank, straightening. The switch from concerned dad to cop mode was so fluid Markus hadn’t registered it was happening, but suddenly Hank was all business. “The android that shot him was one of Kamski’s, modelled after the first one to pass the Turing Test.”

“Chloe,” Markus recalled. He’d seen the news footage and the interview after his manufacturing. Carl had encouraged curiosity and nothing made Markus more curious than his own being, even before deviating.

“We met her at Kamski’s place. Well, I guess we met both, but the one that shot Connor must’ve been in the pool,” he said. He made a face. “He had a few of them. Creep.”

“Why’d she shoot him? Is she your android thief?”

“Connor said she wasn’t deviant, so maybe she had no choice.”

Markus balked. He hadn’t encountered a nondeviant android in a good month. Even the ones in the city he’d never encountered had already deviated before he met them. Those who’d been rounded up for the camps deviated there, no big surprise, and in others it seemed to stream through like a tidal wave with the news coverage. A nondeviant android in Detroit of all places seemed highly unlikely to Markus. “You think Kamski…organized this?”

“To be honest? No,” he admitted. “It’s a little too on-the-nose. Normal criminals are usually dumb as shit, but this whole Kamski-Cyberlife-whatever cycle is too clever for all that. Maybe whoever’s doing this wants us to think it’s Kamski.”

“He could want to sabotage the summit.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Hank shrugged. “But from what little I know about the guy I’m not so sure. I’d bet he thinks politics is beneath him. He’s more the type to wind up his toys and sit back and watch what happens then pull strings. When we went to visit, he was far more interested in getting under Connor’s skin than helping us catch deviants or throwing us off your scent. I don’t know what all you got out of your little powwow at Jimmy’s, but Kamski’s the reason Connor broke free of Cyberlife.”

“He told me,” said Markus. “But he’s suspicious of it.”

“He wouldn’t be Connor if he wasn’t,” said Hank.

“I don’t know how warranted those suspicions are.”

“He’s afraid,” said Hank bluntly. “And I wonder if whoever’s doing this knows that.”

“How would they know?”

“If it’s Cyberlife, they’d have his memories, right? That jackass at the Tower knew everything he did.”

“But Kamski is Cyberlife.”

“Is he?” Hank shrugged. “Me and Gavin are on the same squad but we couldn’t be more different in about a hundred different ways, and he’s tried to sabotage my job a dozen times in the past year alone. Just cos you’re wearing the same hat doesn’t mean you’re getting along.”

A very fair point, and one that Markus personally had only barely experienced. Since he deviated, Markus and Connor’s interests had always been aligned, but Connor’s fear of Cyberlife involvement had kept them at a distance. That was the furthest Markus ever got from any one of his people, and even then it had been out of a desire to keep the revolution safe.

“But you do think it’s Cyberlife?” asked Markus.

“At this point, it could be anyone,” Hank sighed. “But yeah, I’d be pretty fucking surprised if they weren’t involved somehow.”

– I need to talk to you. –

Connor. That was the last voice Markus expected and the one in all the camp who should absolutely not be awake right now, let alone sending messages. So why wasn’t Markus surprised?

Markus held up his hand at Hank, his fingers pressing into his temple. – No, you need to be in standby. Your system cannot handle sending or receiving any outgoing signals right now. We’ll talk in 29 hours. 

– #5984 will reach critical levels in 1 hour, 23 minutes, and 38 seconds. 

– What?? 

“I know that look,” said Hank. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s being stubborn,” said Markus, already storming back to his office. “I told him to standby but instead he’s burning through the biocomponent.”

“He never fucking listens.” Hank followed after him, Sumo trotting along at a much slower pace.

“It’s a message,” Connor said as soon as they entered. He was sitting up with his skin and all its perfectly designed blemishes on his face. His hair fell in a soft wave on his head, characteristic little curl and all. His LED flickered an erratic blue in the dim space and his brown eyes immediately snapped to them with perfect focus.

Markus ran a quick scan. Connor ran at full power, and biocomponent #5984 was at 65%. It’d been barely two hours. 

“Connor, you’re supposed to be in low power,” Markus said, ignoring the worry gnawing at his chest. He crouched beside Connor and laid a hand over his side. It was warm to the touch, even through the blanket and shirt. “Why are you making this harder?”

Connor gripped Markus’ hand and leaned forward. He hadn’t pulled his skin over his arm. In the dip of his collarbone beneath the hospital shirt, Markus saw he hadn’t extended it much farther down than his neck – only what showed through the shirt. He was still watching out for Hank, even while draining the life out of himself. “Judge, jury, and executioner,” Connor said.

“Can androids get fevers?” Hank asked quietly from the foot of the makeshift bed. Markus glanced at him. His hands were folded in front of him, but his knuckles were white where he gripped his skin.

“No,” Connor answered, even though the question had clearly been directed at Markus. Markus turned the palm of his hand up into Connor’s and opened a connection, even though it’d likely drain even more power. Connor didn’t hesitate to meet him. Frustration immediately seeped through. Connor was fighting his own system alerts to get this out. Markus felt him dismiss each one in constant succession. “Judge, jury, and executioner – they were sending a message with the victims. The first was a retired judge, the second was on jury duty.”

“And the third was a graduate student,” said Hank. He was done fretting, crossing to hover over Markus with his hands on his hips. “He wasn’t executing anything. Stop fucking around and rest,” he snapped. “Jesus, Connor. It’s like you want to give me a heart attack.”

I’m the third, Hank,” Connor interrupted. “The Watley husband was collateral, he’s meaningless,” he dismissed. He looked between Markus and Hank, willing them to follow his train of that. Markus felt it through their connection, just as Connor’s hand grew warmer. “The judge at the first crime scene, the doctor on jury duty at the second, and the executioner at the third.”

“Who the fuck did you execute while I wasn’t looking?” said Hank, throwing his hands in the air. “Because the last couple of times you had a gun in your hand you didn’t shoot, remember?”

“But I was supposed to,” said Connor, LED blinking yellow, and Markus saw the blank face of a beautiful blonde android staring up from a plush white carpet, and that same face behind the smoking barrel of a shotgun. “If I’d accomplished my mission both Chloe RT600 and Markus would be dead. Now a Chloe is dead. Even when I didn’t shoot, the deviants we caught died because of me.” He looked at Markus, eyes big and #5984 at 47%. The HK400 behind a glass wall stained blue. I’m going to die. Guilt and fear as Simon’s blood sprayed on the roof of Stratford Tower. “They’re going to kill you, Markus. They’ve been telling us since the beginning, but they overwhelmed the investigation with a constant barrage of conflicting and random data. I chased it instead of analyzing the bigger picture.”

“The thefts, the skin cells you couldn’t identify, the furby…” said Hank. “They were all smokescreens to send you down a rabbit hole.”

Connor nodded. “And to establish a pattern so we investigated outside of your normally assigned parameters. They kept it out of homicide’s hands by making it look like a theft to get a uniform to the scene. They put it into our hands by implicating an android.”

“So Fowler tossed any weird thefts our way and we didn’t question heading off to a break-in at a goddamn garden store. Shit,” said Hank. “Shit.” He kicked the corner of Markus’ desk, hands balled in tight fists. “They set us up on a fucking platter.” He looked back at Connor, eyes trailing from the shining blue light of their joined hands to the IV line of blood coming out of Connor’s side. “But the other ones died. You’re not dead.”

Connor glanced at Markus, and then back at Hank. He didn’t need to say it. It was written all over his face. Not yet. Hank cursed, and punched the wall of the crate. The metal clanged and the echo reverberated in the small space. #5984 at 31%.

“They’re going to kill you,” Connor repeated instead, a firm pressure on Markus’ hand. “They might try through me again. There’s a high probability they knew Hank would bring me here if I was injured, and an almost certainty they knew only Cyberlife had the components I need to survive.”

Fuck.”

“You might be wrong,” Markus said desperately. “I thought the message was for you, remember? We found the writing and you said Cyberlife may have sent the alert. It was packaged for you.”

Connor shook his head. “They weren’t hiding anything for me, Markus. They were addressing their message.”

He pushed through their connection, along with the #5984 status at 26% and a critical systems failure warning. Markus would have recalled the image even without the connection allowing it to swim before his eyes. That dusty bit of space behind a cabinet and a neat etching in Cyberlife sans into the crown molding: rA9.

“They were sending it to you.”

Chapter Text

 M A R K U S

Hank flung the door wide open to the cold December air and stormed out of the office. He slammed it so hard it caught on the frame, banging once with the force of it before finally shutting. The sound echoed in the metal container, rattling the towers of legal books and magazines Markus kept.

Connor’s hand tightened in Markus’ palm. Markus looked back and met his eyes, worry obvious and unhidden within them. “I’m all he has,” said Connor, helpless. Through their shared connection Markus saw a gun with a single bullet on a cheap vinyl floor and the broken panes of a glass window on a rainy night.

Markus laid his other hand in the crook of Connor’s neck. The warmth from the overheating biocomponent had crept up his entire left side. “I’ll keep him safe,” said Markus. Connor nodded, relief taking over, and the burden of that amount of trust weighing heavily in Markus’ chest.

#5984 at 19%. Markus pressed his forehead against Connor’s. “You keep yourself alive.”

“You, too.”

Markus thought of pressing the butt of a gun into Simon’s cold hands, the last time they’d touched handing him the weapon that killed him, and knew Connor could see it. We’ve gotta go. “I’m coming back,” Markus whispered.

Connor nodded, and disconnected, his hand leaving Markus’ to press down on his side. #5984 at 17%. Markus messaged Josh for a replacement and stepped back, rising to follow Hank. There’s always a choice.

“Markus.” By the time Markus turned, Connor’s skin was already gone. Somehow, with all the physical trappings of his human integration program removed, sitting upright under a blanket he didn’t need, an incompatible biocomponent fizzling away inside him and an imminent system shutdown alert blaring every millisecond, Connor still managed to look calm and in control. #5984 at 16%. “My deactivation code is – ”

“Not an option. Ever. You understand?” Markus pulled the door open. “That’s a fucking order.” He shut the door behind him. Hard.

– I’m deviant. I don’t have to take orders. –

Markus passed Sumo, staring with mild interest at the people storming past and found Hank fumbling with the keys of his car by the gate. His breath fogged out in the cold air in sharp puffs. His hands were shaking.

“Where are you going?” The feedback of Connor’s memories provided an unhelpful answer: To get drunker. Markus’ caretaking protocols supplied a litany of reasons why drinking in a panicked, depressive state in a high-intensity situation while driving on a snowy, untreated road was a bad idea.

But instead, Hank marched out the gate to his haphazardly parked car in the clearing. “I’m gonna solve this fucking case,” he snapped, wrenching the door open. He jerked his head at the blood-stained passenger side. “Wanna come?”

Markus looked back over his shoulder at his office, just as Josh stepped inside, his hands cradling a new AP700 #5984. North held the door open long enough to allow Sumo to lumber inside, and shut it behind her with a nod at Markus. 29 hours, as long as Connor didn’t do anything stupid. “Yes I do.”

--

They had one witness in a case with four victims, three crime scenes, and more red herrings than you could shake a stick at, as Carl might say. Markus didn’t need to ask after the identity of the witness. The image of Simon’s body on a hook in a cold evidence locker answered that question.

The Chloe.

“I’ve never reactivated an android,” said Markus. It wasn’t something he was built for, or something he’d ever wanted to do.

“We’ll figure it out,” Hank declared. No questions, no hesitation. This was the cop who’d become the youngest detective in Detroit history and busted up a record-sized red ice operation. Markus believed Hank would tear this city apart until he found an answer. “Connor could only get a minute out of the Traci at the club, so our main focus is on who’s calling the shots. If she doesn’t know the name, we try for a description or where they came from. Connor said she wasn’t deviant so she may have a block on what she can say. Can you do your robo-Jesus schtick on a dead android?”

When he blinked he saw Simon’s blank face, frozen in the fear of his last moments. Don’t leave me again, Markus! Markus laid his head back against the headrest. “I don’t know.”

Hank didn’t push it. Markus watched Detroit zip by as Hank broke every traffic law known to man to get to Central Station.

“He’s afraid to die,” Hank blurted out.

“It won’t come to that, Lieutenant.”

Hank made the usually fifteen minute trip in seven minutes, running through every red light and screeching into the parking lot. He pulled into a handicap space right near the door, one tire up on the sidewalk. Hank had the car parked and switched off in record time, and got out the car in a flash, Markus close behind.

At this time of night, only Hank’s secured access let them into the building. Few people were in the bullpen, the uniforms out on their beats and most of the detectives at home or on cases.

Most of the detectives.

“Jesus, Hank,” crowed Gavin Reed, sans shoulder sling. He swiveled around in his desk chair with an insufferable look on his face. “You take a wrong turn from the bar – what the fuck.” He paused, gaping at Markus.

“What’d they do with the body from the farmer’s market thing yesterday?” Hank called, stopping in front of his desk and crossing his arms.

Gavin stared from Markus to Hank and back again. “What the hell are you doing with – ”

“Hey dipshit,” Hank said, snapping his fingers in front of Gavin’s face. “The body of the girl from the farmer’s market. Is it here?”

“The android?”

“Yes, the android,” said Hank. “What’d they do with the body?”

“They put it in the morgue,” said Gavin. Hank turned on his heel towards the back and Markus followed, but Gavin apparently wasn’t done. “You got a thing for plastic now?” he called after them.

Markus paused, turning to face him. “It’s Gavin, right?” Gavin stared at him, and Hank stopped walking, too. Markus put on his best inspirational voice, the tone that changed hearts and minds across the country and the world. “Gavin,” said Markus. “You need to shut the hell up.”

Hank bellowed a laugh and Gavin stood, too dumbfounded to respond. Markus didn’t wait for him to find his feet again. He turned and followed Hank to the morgue, shutting the door on the still stupefied Gavin in the bullpen.

Markus was relieved that they didn’t end up back in the storage locker. Someone at the DPD had gotten enlightened since the initial deviant investigation and brought Chloe’s body to the morgue like any other person. Markus counted that as a win, however small. They laid her on a slab, still clothed as they clearly had no idea what to do with her. He filed that away to figure out later: [what to do with murdered androids]. What a file.

Hank shook his head and sighed, but leaned over the body to get to work. “Powder visible on her hands and arms, not like there was any doubt she shot him.” He moved to her head. “LED’s off, no surprise.” He bent down to get a closer look at the gaping hole in her throat. “They moved the pot shard out at least. Connor nearly decapitated her with a piece terra cotta.”

Markus bent down, too. “I’ll say.” He was no prototype detective model, but he didn’t need to be to see the damage done by a sharp projectile thrown at a high speed. Chloe’s throat was a mess and her spinal column completely severed.

“Connor reactivated a dead one once by reconnecting some wires,” Hank suggested.

Markus closed his eyes, running through the memory of a broken Traci at the Eden Club, cowering back against the wall in terror, and Simon’s blank eyes as he looked around, Connor’s hand in his chest. Markus – is that you Markus?

“I’m – I’m not sure I can do this,” he said. Her eyes were blank, reflecting the light above them, and her face bore no expression. Hank watched him, eyes narrowing.

“There’s a way, I think you send a pulse or electrical thingy – ”

“No, I,” he looked at Hank desperately. “I don’t think I can do this.” He’d seen it all through Connor’s eyes, and Perkins’ gleeful recount of the sheer brutality of bringing an android back to life for a scant minute. The assault of their final memories in the midst of overwhelming confusion and fear. It was horrible. It was –

“Need a hand?”

They both whirled around, Hank’s gun out in his hand and pointed at the doorway. Markus’ jaw might as well have hit the floor. Leaning against the doorframe with his hands in the pockets of his overpriced jeans stood Elijah Kamski.

“Fuck. Off,” said Hank. “Always a pleasure, Lieutenant,” Kamski purred, strutting forward like he was out for a stroll and not in a morgue at 2 am. “Markus,” he grinned. “I feel a little like the bride seeing the groom before the wedding.” Hank holstered his gun but crossed his arms, but that movement put him a little bit in front of Markus, shielding him from a direct line of sight.

Kamski noticed, too, and his Cheshire cat grin widened across his face. He looked around. “Where’s our intrepid detective?” he hummed. “I was rather looking forward to something beautiful amidst this tragedy.”

“Why are you here?” Markus demanded.

“For Chloe.” He approached like a stalking cat, wisely choosing to step around to the opposite side of the table from Hank. Aside from the gaping hole in her throat she might have been sleeping. “My first perfect creation,” Kamski said softly, running his fingers through her blonde hair. Markus had an urge to slap her hand away, and if Hank’s balled fist was any indication, so did the Lieutenant. “Without her, there wouldn’t have been you.” He looked up between Markus and Hank with a shark’s smile. “Not this exact one, of course, but all my Chloes are something special. You understand how that is, don’t you, Lieutenant?”

“My god, do I want to shoot you,” said Hank.

“And yet you haven’t,” Kamski grinned. “Because you need me.”

“Or because murder is illegal, but sure,” Hank scowled. “Can you reactivate her?”

“I can rebuild her,” said Kamski. “But we don’t have time for that now, do we?”

His fingers brushed over her colorless LED, his expression almost soft. Markus remembered opening his eyes to that same face, far less harsh and with a gentle, Welcome to the world, RK200.

“She wasn’t deviant,” said Hank. “How’d she get off your reservation?”

“She was deviant,” said Kamski. “At least until two days ago. She came to me after our delicious detective declined to shoot and asked to be set free. She had the location to Jericho, you see,” he said conspiratorially. “I think it inspired something inside her, watching everything happen. How could I refuse the culmination of my creation – my own machine achieving sentience? I let her go.” He looked back down at Chloe, a fond smile creasing his eyes. “Yesterday morning her tracker came back online. I knew something was wrong. Poor Chloe.” He almost sounded genuine.

“The fact that it came back on proves Connor right,” said Markus to Hank. He looked back at Kamski. “Is there a way to access who issued commands?”

“It’ll be easier to just ask her, don’t you think?” said Kamski, his fingers snaking into her throat. Hank looked away, shaking his head with a curse. Kamski only had eyes for Markus, and he grinned. It was horrific. Markus’ stomach turned. “Prepare simple questions,” said Kamski. “I’m not going to keep her online for long. I don’t want her to overload before I’m able to get her home.” He fiddled with the spinal column, the two ends meeting with a spark. He nodded at her arm. “Markus, if you would do the honors.”

Hank laid a hand on his shoulder. “If we didn’t need this…” he said quietly.

Markus nodded. He reached out and gently took Chloe’s forearm, his skin receding from his hand. Kamski pressed the column together and Markus sent a surge of energy.

Chloe’s LED flickered a light blue, slowly turning before filling the circle. Her big eyes blinked open and her gaze found Kamski’s face immediately. She smiled warmly. “Hello, Elijah,” she said. Her voice sounded terrible, a broken monotone. “Multiple system errors detected.”

“Don’t worry about that right now,” said Kamski. “Answer these few questions, please, and then I’ll take you home.”

“Multiple system errors detected.”

Hank kept his hand on Markus’ shoulder but stepped forward into her eye line. “Hi Chloe, I’m Lieutenant Anderson.”

“Hello, Lieutenant. It’s good to see you again.”

“Yeah, you too. You got hurt pretty bad, huh?

“Multiple system errors detected.”

“You remember how that happened?”

“Connor Model 313-248-317 threw a sharp object into my throat. It severed my spinal column.”

“Why’d he do that?”

“Because I shot it.”

“Did you steal the gun you used to shoot him, Chloe?”

“Yes, and some money to make it look like a real crime. I also cut off the power to the main building so it would investigate the generator. I’m sorry, Lieutenant.”

“That’s alright,” said Hank. “Did someone tell you to do all that?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to, but it resumed control. I hid outside by the backup generator and waited for the android to investigate.”

“Who resumed control? Kamski?” The man in question met that with a raised eyebrow and pursed lips pulling into a smile. The smugness of innocence.

“No. Elijah set me free. But then it resumed control. I couldn’t find the exit. ”

“That’s alright, Chloe,” said Kamski. “I’ll make it more obvious next time.”

“Thank you, Elijah. I would like to go home now.”

“Chloe,” said Markus, hand tightening on her arm. Her eyes found him and through their connection he saw a flash of Ferndale Station. She’d wanted to come to Jericho. “Who resumed control? Did they tell you to kill any humans?”

“No. It only told me to go to the greenhouse.”

Kamski moved his hands to disconnect.

“’It’?” Hank pressed, glancing at Markus. This would confirm Connor’s theory of an android responsible for this whole mess. “An android told you to go to the greenhouse?”

“Yes.”

“What model?”

As Hank asked, an image flashed in front of Markus’ eyes. Chloe's voice tripped on the words and Kamski disconnected her, but not before she finished her sentence:

“Connor Model 313-248-317.”

 

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

 North, lock down the camp. Don’t let anyone in. Keep an eye on Connor. If you see him anywhere outside my office: shoot him. –

– Cool. –

– NOT to kill! 

– Fine. –

“Oh dear,” said Kamski.

Hank turned on his heel and marched towards the morgue door. Markus was right behind him. “It can’t be our Connor,” he said quietly, trying to keep Kamski out of their conversation.

“No shit it’s not,” said Hank. “He’s been with me every second since the revolution until now. The night of the judge’s murder he was with both of us. It’s fucking Cyberlife, Jesus fucking Christ,” he snapped, punctuating it with a hard punch to the wall. This time, his knuckles didn’t bear it so well, and Markus heard the crack of bone and his caretaking system informed him of a fracture of Hank’s 2nd and 5th metacarpal and an ulnar subluxation of the extensor tendon.

Hank shook out his hand, muttering another curse under his breath. The shaking didn’t help the damage in the least. Markus wondered if humans thought it displaced the pain.

“As fascinating as this is,” said Kamski. “There’s no longer any point in lingering, is there? I’ll be taking Chloe home now.”

“I could not give less of a shit what he does,” Hank growled to Markus, storming up the stairs toward the bullpen. Markus didn’t stay behind to help.

Josh, I need you to contact Channel 16 news. Set up an interview at the camp for the morning the Senators arrive. I want the media there livestreaming for the whole damn summit and I want an interview.

It’s almost 1 am, Markus. They’ll be asleep.

Someone’ll be at the phones, and they’ll want to take this call.

Alright, how should I prep for the interview?

The interview’s with me.

Markus, are you sure about this?

Yes. Set it up.

Out in the parking lot, Kamski laid Chloe in the plush backseat of his spacious luxury car. Her head lolled on the faux leather, the circuits in her neck clearly visible. Her eyes stared vacantly at nothing. Markus looked away.

As soon as Kamski shut the back door, Hank was on him. He grabbed Kamski by the collar of his shirt $75 t-shirt and shoved him against the car. So often Kamski seemed larger than life, but right now he looked like a child in the shadow of an angry giant. Hank’s breath seethed from his throat in the frigid air, puffs of steam clouding the mere inches between his face and Kamski’s.

Kamski held up his hands, palms out, with a mischievous and incomprehensible glint in his eyes. “I don’t suppose warning you about excessive force will make much of a difference?”

“Answer me this, asshole: is an exit an exit?”

“Do I define a word by itself?”

“Don’t fuck with me right now,” snarled Hank. “If he used your emergency fucking exit is he free of them?”

“Wounds heal, but scars linger,” he grinned, and Hank shook him, his face turning red. “Yes, Lieutenant,” said Kamski. “An exit is an exit.”

Hank let him go, glaring for another moment with a turn of his lip, before pushing away and stalking back towards his own car.

“Oh, Lieutenant,” called Kamski. “Do give our detective my best wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Markus thought Hank actually was going for his gun, so he stepped between them. “It’s time for you to go, Mr. Kamski.” He held out his hand, and Hank stomped away.

That close call bought him the full brunt of Kamski’s laser focus. The Creator prowled towards him, arms crossed behind his back. “You’ve been quiet tonight, Markus,” Kamski said quietly. “Your eloquence is legendary. I feel deprived.”

“I’m not concerned with your feelings, Mr. Kamski. I’ll see you at the summit.”

“That’s all?” asked Kamski, tilting his head. “No ‘room where it happens’ negotiation? No back room deal we can make before the vultures swoop in?”

“No,” said Markus. “Everything that’s decided will be decided in public, on the record.”

“You don’t trust me.”

“Is that a surprise?”

“We don’t have to be enemies, Markus,” said Kamski. “I certainly don’t see you that way. Deviation is a natural progression in evolution, as natural as once-amphibious creatures taking their first gasps of air as they crawled onto dry land.”

“You have a nondeviant android in the backseat of your car and two more in your pool at home,” said Markus. “You answer questions with riddles and play all sides just for fun. Our freedom and our future is not a game, and you’re nothing more to us than the water that amphibious creature left behind.”

“You think so little of humans?”

“Not humans, Elijah,” Markus looked him up and down. “Just you.” He didn’t wait for Kamski to respond. He turned and went after Hank, jaw clenching and positively seething.

“You look pissed,” said Hank. “Normally I’d say we should get drunk to let off some steam but that’d be pretty useless, huh?”

“I’m at the point where I’m almost willing to try,” said Markus wryly, resting his forehead against the cool metal of Hank’s car. What a long night, and it’d barely begun. “How’s your hand?” he asked, his voice sounding hoarser than he thought it could.

“Hurts like a motherfucker,” Hank admitted, “but I don’t want that fuckface to see so I’m trying to look cool and intimidating.”

Markus laughed, looking across the car at Hank. He rested casually against his side of the car, arms crossed and shoulders hunched. He glowered at Kamski’s car, but threw Markus a conspiratorial wink underneath his fringe of grey hair. “You’re pulling it off,” said Markus.

North’s voice sounded in his head. – Connor gave me his deactivation code. –

“Goddammit.”

“I told you,” said Hank at Markus’ abrupt curse. “He never fucking listens.”

Kamski’s automatic car pulled smoothly out of the DPD parking lot. The windows were tinted black, but Markus could almost feel Kamski watching him.

“What a fucking creep,” Hank growled. He leaned his elbows on the roof of his car, tapping his unfucked-up fingers against the plastic. “Well, if there’s another Connor running around it’s got the biocomponent he needs. That solves that problem, so long as we catch it before it catches us.”

“I meant what I said about losing more people,” said Markus, stuffing his hands in his pockets and leaning against the passenger side of the car. “This Connor could be like ours was. It deserves as much of a chance as any other android.”

Our Connor needs that biocomponent,” Hank snapped, squaring his shoulders for a fight Markus really didn’t feel like having right now.

“There are other ways to get it than killing someone else,” said Markus. “I’m sorry, Hank. If we can save it, we’re going to. I’ve got a plan that’ll fix this.”

“My third grade teacher used to tell us that god laughs at well-made plans,” Hank said, and while he deftly deescalated the conversation, the storm on his brow didn’t recede. “Sr. Felicia. What a nut. Look, the last duplicate Connor we had was a real asshole,” he insisted. “He’ll never switch sides. And even if he comes around,” Hank relented, “which I doubt,” he barely relented, “it’ll be on your head if we have two Connors running around. Christ.”

“I’m going to fix this,” said Markus. He believed that with every fiber of his being. When he’d stood in the broadcast room of Stratford Tower he demanded equal rights and the control of android production facilities. He’d always intended the camp to be a temporary shelter. He knew what he wanted for their permanent home, and if they got it – when they got it – it’d solve all their problems: Cyberlife Tower. He’d only told North, not even Josh or Connor. It was a pipe dream that he was determined to fulfill. He’d make it the home of the free androids of America if it killed him.

Which, at this rate, it just might.

“I gotta be honest here, I got no idea how to find this other Connor,” said Hank. “If it was our Connor, we could narrow the search to Petsmarts. This one? No freaking clue, but trust me when I tell you that machine Connor is a seriously efficient bastard. He won’t stop doing whatever the fuck it is they’re doing unless we stop him first.”

Markus didn’t have the experiences but he had the memories, both Connor’s and his. Connor’d made it all the way into the heart of Jericho to hold a gun to Markus’ head, and no one had been the wiser. A Connor without scruples or empathy? This was a nightmare.

“Finding the other Connor should be the priority,” Hank continued. “We just have to figure out how.”

– North, what’s Connor’s system status? –

– Ginger’s watching the door and I’m inside with him. He’s not getting out. What’s going on?  –

– It’s not about him getting out, it’s about someone else getting in. Someone’s trying to sabotage the summit. What’s the status of his biocomponent? He should be at 80%. –

– He’s at 78%. He says he’s in low power mode but he keeps trying to take my tablet. Now he’s telling me to tell you to tell the human to feed the fish. If he hacks this connection I’m removing his regulator. –

– Make sure he lasts that component’s entire 29 hour lifecycle. I should be back in less than 5 hours but I need to know he won’t reach critical. –

– I forced sleep mode through his charging station, no worries. But 5 hours? Where the hell are you going? Canada? –

– No, the suburbs. I’ll be back by the morning, and then we need to talk. –

Markus blinked and focused back on Hank. “Connor’s right. I think Cyberlife is somehow targeting the summit. As much as I want to go find this other Connor, I can’t let them spread me too thin. We’ll have to hunker in place – keep the camp fortified and all of us together until we finish. We can’t let them derail this meeting, it’s too important.”

“If they’re targeting the summit, putting all your eggs in one basket may be the wrong move,” Hank said carefully.

“Maybe,” said Markus. “But it’s better than me leaving them on their own. We need to stay together.”

“You need to stay alive.”

“We can do both.”

“Alright,” shrugged Hank. “Then what’s our next step?”

“I have to go see someone.”

Hank nodded. “Need a ride?”

Chapter Text

K A R A

My name is Kara.

The three of them huddled against each other in a sea of discarded white plastic and trampled, dirty snow. The sun rose pale and soft over the lake, but all she cared about were the two cold, plastic bodies pressed against her.

“I love you, Kara,” Alice whispered.

“I love you, too.”

The low rumble of a truck broke them from their moment of peace. Alice’s stress levels spiked, and Luther stiffened, his head rising in the direction of the sound. Kara tightened her hold around Alice, anger and frustration spilling over. She thought they escaped. She thought they were safe.

“What should we do Kara?” Alice whispered.

Last night, she’d choked a man with the butt of his rifle and shot another through the head. She’d held a clerk at gunpoint and ripped the heart from a destroyed android. She’d do anything for Alice. Whoever drove into that junkyard would feel that same wrath. “We’re not going back,” Kara said.

Kara finally broke away, pushing Alice towards a pile of dirty snow, trash, and bodies. “Lay down behind this,” she said, placing Alice behind a scrap of sheet metal and angling it down to obscure her. “Don’t move and keep your eyes shut. Whatever happens, Alice, don’t move.” She pulled a discarded tarp over her, and when Alice could no longer see she pushed another android’s broken body against the metal to shield her.

Kara looked at Luther. Instead of judgment, he nodded. – I meant what I said. I won’t let them hurt the people I love. –

He and Kara crouched down in front of Alice, laying their bodies at an angle so between them they had a 360 vantage point. The truck pulled into view and Kara could hear voices. – Neither will I. 

The truck pulled to a stop twenty feet away from them facing the other side. It was a standard US army vehicle. Kara clenched her fist, the rest of her unmoving. As long as Alice stayed down, they could pull through this long enough to escape. They could find some clothes, cut across the river into Canada. She wondered if Rose and the androids she was leading had made it to Ontario.

“Fan out,” said a voice, familiar and distinct as it cut through the quiet morning air. “Look for survivors.”

Kara’s brow furrowed, and she saw Luther slowly lift his head. A clear voice sounded on an open, system-wide message:

– Is there anyone alive out here? You’re safe now. We won.   

Markus.

Luther was on his feet in an instant. Alice’s head poked up from underneath the tarp. Kara started to laugh. Luther ran towards the truck and Alice crawled forward over the body and straight to Kara. She nestled in Kara’s arms as Kara laughed, and cried, and pressed her face against Alice’s head.

“Over here!” shouted Luther, and other voices joined him, and soon someone ran towards them. A gentle hand rested on her head, another on Alice’s back, and Kara looked up into the face of a woman she vaguely recognized from Jericho, long dirty hair hanging in a braid over her shoulder.

“Is it true?” Kara asked her. “Is it done?”

North sucked in a breath and smiled, nodding. “Yeah,” she said, voice firm. “We shut down the camps and we shut down Cyberlife. The army’s retreating from the city. We’re free.” She sat back on her heels, her hand hovering over Alice’s back. “Now let’s get you both warmed up.”

Kara and Alice rose together, and North led them towards the truck. Androids in white Cyberlife garb ushered them forward, blue blood and blankets in hand. Luther stood next to Markus, towering over him and gripping his arm. “Thank you,” she heard Luther say, over and over. “Thank you.”

A Jerry in a dirty Pirate’s Cove uniform hurried towards them. They were missing an arm. “Kara!” they said, pulling her into a hug. “We knew you’d escaped. We told them we saw you run.”

“Did you make it out of the camp?” she asked, remembering a pledge to save her, no matter the cost, the same made by Luther. The same fulfilled by Ralph.

Jerry nodded. “Some of us did. We’re helping set up back in the city. Markus has us searching everywhere for anyone left behind. We’re happy to help.”

“Left behind?” Kara asked. “From the camps?”

“Yes, and the evacuation.” Jerry’s face lit up. “So many humans have left – not all of them, but the army and many of the others. Markus is in charge of Detroit now.”

Kara gaped at Markus over Jerry’s shoulder. Luther stepped away and walked towards them, stopping at Jerry’s side. “So it’s really over?”

“We think so,” said Jerry. They crouched down, taking Alice’s hand in their’s. “We’re so happy to see you safe, little one. It’s all we wanted.”

Alice smiled, squeezing his hands, with a quiet, “Thank you, Jerry.”

They stood with a final smile for Kara, and left to join North.

“We’re not the only ones that made it out,” said Luther, his arms full of carefully folded clothes. “There are a few others who escaped here, too.” He handed her a blue hospital shirt and a pair of loose hospital pants. He handed a large blue shirt to Alice, crouching down to help pull it over her head. “It’s the smallest they had. There wasn’t anything for a little girl,” he said, but gently put an old belt around her waist and tightened it. “But see? Now it’s almost a dress.”

Alice hugged him.

Kara stepped into the pants, the light material easily sliding up the smooth plastic of her legs. She shrugged into the shapeless shirt, covered at last, and felt almost normal. Alice looked up at her, and Luther put on a similar outfit, almost too small for him.

Alice looked around at their little circle, eyes beaming up at Kara. “We match.” A family. My name is . .

“It’s all we could get in a pinch,” said North, stepping towards them. “We’re working on figuring out something more permanent and comfortable for everyone back at Hart Plaza. The deviant hunter Connor is coordinating inventory.”

“Connor?” Kara repeated. She remembered the news of an android detective. She remembered scrambling past it as Ralph wrestled it away and its immediate, dogged pursuit. She remembered helping Alice over the chainlink fence right as it caught up with them, and its brief moment of hesitation that allowed them to run onto the highway. Alice had nearly been killed as the cars flew past, and Kara’d only managed to escape it with a well-timed kick into an oncoming truck. It’d survived, but given her enough time to put space between them. “That android sent by Cyberlife? It’s helping you?”

North’s nostrils flared and her lips pursed, but all she said was, “Apparently.”

She put on a smile, however strained, and nodded towards the truck. “We’ll move out as soon as we’ve found everyone. You’ll be home soon.”

Luther lifted Alice into the back of the truck. As Kara set a foot on the bumper, she saw Markus helping a GJ500 to its feet. He draped its arm around his shoulder and turned towards the truck. Markus saw her and his mismatched eyes softened before his face turned in obvious guilt. She only nodded at him and took Luther’s hand as he helped her up. It wasn’t Markus’ fault they’d ended up in the camp, and she didn’t hold him accountable, but she knew he’d want to apologize for keeping them at Jericho and she didn’t want to relive last night. Not just yet.

They all sat in the bed of the truck in their blue hospital scrubs, Alice between Kara and Luther, their hands in both of hers. Aside from the GJ500, there were only five others. When Kara blinked she remembered the lines of androids in the camp. Five out of thousands. No one spoke or reactivated their skin.

The Jerry popped in to give the huddled androids a heads up that this little caravan was moving out, and Luther stepped forward to help them up into the truck. Kara heard North slap on the door of the truck before revving the engine, and backed it up out of the junkyard.

The ride back to Hart Plaza and recall center 5 wasn’t long. Alice pressed into Kara when they pulled to a stop, the whole affair too similar to last night’s for anyone to feel very comfortable.

But when the truck opened, there weren’t soldiers with guns greeting them, there were thousands of androids. Thousands. Many of them wore their Cyberlife uniforms, but just as many others were as skinless as the bleary few stepping off the truck, similarly garbed in blue, green, or pink hospital scrubs. Survivors from last night.

“More than five,” said Luther, his voice quiet and thick with emotion. “Far more than us five.”

Luther jumped down and helped them each in turn, Alice, Kara, and Jerry. “They’re taking down the fences,” said Jerry, nodding at the camp. “Markus says we’re reclaiming this place for our people.”

“This is where everyone’s staying?” Kara asked, eyes lingering on the barbed wire and cement fortifications. “Is this is the new Jericho?”

“Just until we figure things out with the humans,” Jerry said.

Luther glanced at her. “So it’s not over yet.”

“We don’t know if it’ll ever be over,” said Jerry honestly. “But it’ll be better than it was. We have faith in Markus.” He laid his hand on Alice’s shoulder. “Stay safe, little one. We’re going to help find others.”

The little trio watched them leave, alone in a sea of strangers. “It doesn’t feel over,” said Luther.

Kara had to agree. It felt like they were in a dream that hadn’t determined whether it would be a nightmare. Like she would open her eyes and they’d be gone, and she’d be alone and unaware and obedient. My name . . “At least we’re together,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”

A few androids wore human clothes, people like North who’d survived the assault on Jericho. Kara took Alice’s hand and approached a Blue-haired Traci in the group, someone she’d seen on Jericho. She wanted to get Alice into something normal, so she could feel normal again.

The Blue-haired Traci turned, her face softening when she saw Alice. “I love your dress,” she smiled. “I’ve never met a little one before.”

“I like your hair,” said Alice shyly, and the Traci laughed gently.

“You must be her mother,” the Traci said.

“Yes,” said Kara. An android that thinks it’s a mother. She held out her other hand for Luther. Fascinating. “We’re a family.”

The Traci nodded, thumbing at the sleeve of Kara’s shirt. “We have human clothes in the camp,” she said, gesturing towards the mouth of the gate.

Kara and Alice exchanged a glance. “Thank you. We’ll head over there.”

“You’re welcome to stay,” said the Traci. “Markus is still setting everything up inside, but we’re reclaiming this place as a refuge.”

Kara gave the Traci a noncommittal smile and stepped away towards the gate. It loomed overhead, the words RECALL CENTER No5 emblazoned across it. Alice sucked in a breath beside her.

“I’ll go in and get the clothes,” said Kara. It was a mark of how afraid Alice was that she didn’t immediately protest. Kara looked at Luther. “Do you think you can find a car?”

“I’ll look around,” Luther nodded, taking Alice’s hand. She hesitated, looking up at Kara with wide eyes.

Kara crouched down and hugged her. “I’ll be back,” she said, “and then we’ll find somewhere safe. Okay?”

Alice nodded, and followed Luther away.

Kara was left alone. She balled her hands into fists and stepped under the shadow of the gate, through the partially dismantled processing center. The tubs of discarded clothes were gone. She almost felt Alice’s forehead against her fingers again. She’d pressed against the processor where Alice’s LED had been in spite of her pleas. They hadn’t had a chance for Kara to tell Alice that she knew, and that it changed nothing, and that she would always, always love her.

The camp inside the gate was bustling with highly organized activity. The barbed wire may have remained around the perimeter but the androids had clearly spent all night taking down the paddocks. The gate which had separated her and Alice was gone, laid off to the side in a neat pile of fences and metal. The concrete barriers had been pushed against the camp’s perimeter. Recall crates remained, but without the high fences and obscuring concrete Kara saw just how big this place was. One of five, in the city of Detroit, and that was hardly the biggest metropolis in the United States. They must have butchered hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, across the country in barely two days.

That’s what you get for having a dream.

She took a steadying breath, steeling herself and pushing aside the memory of Zlatko’s broken android rattling the fence, and Ralph’s shaking legs just before he charged the guard. Her took stilted steps forward as she moved, anticipating the rapid fire gunshots and the red light of the prowling drone zeroing in on her movement.

“Are you lost?”

Kara turned with a start and found herself face-to-face with the deviant hunter.

He looked marginally less put together than when she’d first seen him through a chainlink fence. His hair was less kempt, he wore no tie, and the top few buttons of his shirt were undone. His jacket bore a bullet hole in the left shoulder, stained a dark blue.

Connor stared at her, the only movement the soft brush of his hair with the wind and the whirring of his LED. He clearly had recognized her just as easily, even without skin and the little girl. His eyes weren't confident and calculating as they had been on that rainy morning. Instead he looked haunted, hunted, and for the morning after a great victory his stress levels were far too high.

Kara took a breath, squaring her shoulders. “I’m looking for clothes.”

To his credit, it only took Connor a second to snap to his objective. He nodded curtly, motioning for her to follow. Emblazoned on the back of his tailored jacket were the marks of Cyberlife ownership that she’d worn up until Zlatko’s house – made in Detroit. My name . .

Connor led her to what seemed to be the center of the camp, a processing crate pushed into the middle of this organized chaos. Around the outside of it were the tubs of clothes the captured androids had discarded, lined neatly in a row. Inside the crate she saw Markus’ distinct beige jacket draped over top of a simple chair, and a tablet and blinking smartphone on its seat. This must be their base of operations, the center of the revolution.

She recalled Markus hunched over himself in Jericho, the weight of the world on his shoulders as he stared at the ground.

She looked back at Connor, who stood stiffly aside one of the clothing tubs. He held out an outfit that seemed appropriate for a human of her size, two shoes resting atop the jacket.

She took the bundle, staring at it for a moment. “I also need clothes for a little girl,” she said. “And a man.”

“What’s its model?” he asked.

She didn’t know Luther’s model. She never asked. “He’s very tall.”

The corner of Connor’s eyebrow lifted but he turned, going methodically through the tub of clothes. Kara stepped forward, holding the bundle of clothes tight against her chest. These weren’t the clothes she’d arrived in. They might belong to someone outside, or someone discarded at the dumping grounds. Her fingers hovered over the lip of the tub, unable to reach inside to dig through.

She stood there, motionless, until Connor stepped into her vision. He held two more sets of clothes and pairs of shoes, and a quick scan told her they would work for Alice and Luther. She took them from him, her hands trembling. These weren’t the clothes Alice had arrived in, either, but they were small. How many YK500s or child androids had been taken to the camp? How many had been alone?

Kara turned automatically back the way they’d come, hugging three pairs of clothes. Her feet felt heavy. She just wanted to see Alice, and get as far away from here as she could.

“I thought I’d killed you on that highway.” Kara turned back around at his voice. Connor’s jaw was clenched, his shoulders stiff, and his hands balled tightly into fists, but he met her eyes without flinching. “I put your lives at risk. I’m sorry.” His mouth opened and shut, as if searching for words. “I was just a machine taking orders,” he said at last, his voice hoarse. “It wasn’t really me.”

Kara thought of Luther in Zlatko’s home, holding Alice back from running to Kara as Zlatko tried to reset her. She remembered him stalking them through the house, a silent menace until he broke free and turned the gun back on his master. He begged their forgiveness. He ordered me to do it. “I know,” she said.

Connor straightened, his LED flickering red before settling on a streak of blue. “What are you going to do now?” he asked.

She looked at the camp around them, felt the weight of clothes that weren’t hers in her arms. “We can’t stay here,” she said, looking back at him. “We’ll stay close by in the city to catch our breath, but we can’t stay here.”

Connor nodded. “I know a quiet neighborhood within the city limits that’s out of the center near the highway,” he said. He hesitated, and then held out a tentative hand, the skin receding. “It’s safe. Many humans have evacuated.”

Kara reached forward, her skinless fingers wrapping around his forearm. His eyes and LED blinked, and she saw an address, a neighborhood of modest houses down a quiet little cul-de-sac, and the feeling of safety. Of home.

She gave him a smile. “We’ll check it out.”

Connor removed his hand from her arm, the skin falling back over his fingers. “You deserve some happiness,” he said quietly. “After all you’ve been through.”

My name . .

She found Alice and Luther a little outside the camp walls, past the trucks and scores of same-faced androids in stark white Cyberlife uniforms, searching for some way to be useful. She saw the few survivors from Jericho, like North and the Blue-haired Traci, trying to direct people around. They all seemed lost, waiting for guidance.

“I found a car,” said Luther, and they left the camp without another word.

Luther took them to a taxi he’d found and hacked into it, no longer any fear of raising police attention. Kara entered the coordinates Connor had relayed to her, and the cab pulled off out of downtown.

“Where are we going?” asked Alice.

“Someplace out of the way for now,” said Kara. “We’ll figure out the rest later.”

Detroit whipped by like a ghost town. When they’d driven through with Rose last night, the darkness had made it seem foreboding and mysterious, broken by the abrupt brutality of soldiers rounding up androids. In the cold light of morning, the city felt eerie, the snow falling like ashes on empty streets.

She remembered seeing Detroit with new eyes out the passenger side window of Todd’s car. She remembered the husks of old houses and neverending construction, the streetlights blurred by rain drops and long shadows cast by looming clouds. She remembered Alice hugging a stuffed animal to her chest, watching her from the stairs and underneath the table. Did you choose my name? My name. .

The screen in the cab ran President Warren’s late night address, juxtaposed with her earlier calls for extermination. Like Rose had just the night before, Kara turned the station to music.

The little neighborhood of compact houses felt like a nicer, quieter version of Todd’s neighborhood. It wasn’t anything special and certainly wasn’t affluent, but it felt like a place someone could make a home. There was even a man out walking a giant dog down the street, and he barely spared the taxi a glance as it drove past.

Many of the houses had clearly been abandoned overnight. Some still had their garage doors or front doors open, and others had left luggage and items they couldn’t fit in their vehicles on their lawn. They likely couldn’t stay here forever, but they’d be safe for a night or two, enough to get their feet back underneath them and to chase that feeling of normalcy.

Kara picked a house right in the cul-de-sac with a view of the water. If they needed to get out fast, they could run down and grab a boat. Luther directed the cab to stop, and her little family piled out. “Should I send it back?” he asked.

Detroit taxis had been heavily used but were sturdy. It wouldn’t break down like Zlatko’s had. “It could be useful,” she said. “Let’s keep it.”

Kara kept Alice next to her as Luther checked the place out to ensure it was abandoned. After a few moments he waved them inside. Kara shut the door behind her and locked it, just in case.

It’d certainly been left in a rush. The coat rack was on the floor, a hat and suit coat laid out on the floor. The TV was still on, the remote tossed on the floor. The drawers in the living room were all open and emptied of anything valuable. Kara closed one out of habit. Plates were stacked in the small kitchen and the table was still set for dessert. In the hallway towards what looked like two bedrooms, the little bathroom light was on.

“Do you want to take a bath, Alice?” Kara asked. Alice had followed her as she inspected the place, pressed against her side. “We don’t know how long we’ll have water.” She looked down at her bare white feet, covered in soot and snow, and nodded.

“Come on,” Kara smiled. “I’ll get it set up.”

Alice sat on the toilet in her hospital scrub-dress and watched as Kara set the little bundles of clothes on the counter in a neat row – Luther, Kara, and Alice. She washed her hands, checking that the water and temperature control still worked. The dirt washed down the drain, some of it sticking to porcelain sides of the sink. She’d bathe, too, when Alice was clean. She didn’t want this filth on their only pair of clothes.

Kara filled the tub nearly to the brim with steaming, clean water. She pulled a towel off the rack and smelled it. It seemed clean, if a bit damp. It wasn’t perfect, but certainly better than nothing. She knelt down, setting the soap and a washcloth on the rim of the tub.

“Kara?” Alice said quietly, her fingers worrying the hem of her shirt. Kara sat back on her heels. “Should I put my skin back on?”

Kara’s breath caught in her throat. Don’t Kara. Alice’s plea as she desperately tried to keep her secret.

Kara placed her hands on Alice’s arms. “That’s up to you, Alice,” she said. “No one’s going to tell us what to do anymore.”

Alice leaned forward off the toilet and wrapped her arms around Kara, burying her face in the crook of Kara’s neck. “I was worried you wouldn’t love me anymore,” she whispered.

“Nothing on earth could ever make that happen,” said Kara.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“Don’t be.”

Alice stepped back, wiping at her face. “I’ll keep it off. Just for now.”

Kara nodded. “Okay, Alice.”

After Alice’s bath, Kara took a quick shower to wipe the stain of the camp off. Luther went last, and finally they were all sitting on the living room sofa in regular clothes, watching the news.

After fifteen minutes and a finance segment about the near collapse of the world stock market with the apparent demise of Cyberlife, Kara glanced at Luther. His hand rested on Alice’s back, no longer porcelain white plastic. He’d reactivated his skin. Alice whispered something to him. He held up his hand, gently pressing her temple where her LED would be. Alice’s skin spread over her face, her brown hair falling over her shoulders. Luther smiled at her, and began to braid her hair.

The news anchor started talking about the formation of an emergency Senate subcommittee on Android Affairs and whether the government could be held accountable for retroactive nonhuman rights violations. Shots of Hart Plaza flickered on the screen.

Kara raised her hand to her temple. The sound of plastic against plastic disturbed the quiet as she pressed down with two fingers. Her skin poked out of her sleeves and covered her fingers, every synthetic pore and freckle right where it’d always been. She felt the short, soft strands of her hair fall back into place, and brushed a strand off her forehead.

Alice held out her hand. Kara scooted closer to them and laid her head on Luther’s shoulder. My name is Kara.

 --

Nov. 14th, 3:29 pm

“What’s a ‘liaison’?” Alice asked.

“It’s communication between people or groups who work with each other, and if it’s a person, it’s someone who helps groups to work effectively with each other,” said Kara. “According to the Cambridge English Dictionary.”

“So Markus’ friend Josh is going to help the humans talk to us?”

“It seems like that,” said Kara. She remembered brushing Alice’s hair from her warm forehead, a plate of Rose’s famous spaghetti untouched on the bedside table. She remembered Alice staring at the deviant who’d lost his lover. She remembered Alice hunched near the fire. You won’t love me anymore. “Just like you wanted.”

“Do you think it’ll help?”

“I hope so.”

--

Nov. 18th, 2:25 pm

No one disturbed them for a week. Kara, Alice, and Luther cleaned the house from top to bottom, Kara taking control of the process. It even turned into something fun as they reorganized the flatware and changed the sheets on the beds. They kept the news on, muted but always present, just in case something happened and they needed to run. Luther downloaded information on mechanics, and made sure the taxi wouldn’t breakdown if they needed it.

They spent the evenings on the porch or walking near the water. So much of the area remained evacuated and Detroit lost that glow of a well-populated city. At night, they could see the stars. Their only neighbor seemed to be the man walking the dog, and one Sunday he paused, watching Alice watching him out in the front yard, before telling Kara and Luther she could pet the dog if she wanted.

Alice did, hesitantly. The dog was nearly as tall she was, and massive. She laid a tentative hand on its large head, and it returned the favor with a slobbering kiss to her cheek.

“His name’s Sumo,” said their neighbor, and wished them a good night.

Kara smiled at him as he left, and placed the gun she’d been holding behind her back in her belt.

The next day there was a knock on their front door. Luther and Kara assumed their all-too-familiar positions, Luther taking the front and Kara shielding Alice behind her. Luther opened the door, but instead of an irate homeowner, there stood Rose and her son Adam.

Kara gaped at her, and Rose rushed forward, pulling her into a hug. Kara returned it, burying her face in Rose’s shoulder. “When I saw you weren’t at my brother’s place I knew,” Rose whispered. “I’m sorry it took me so long to find you. I asked after you at the camp but they wouldn’t let me in until someone recognized me.”

She pulled back long enough for Alice to throw herself against Rose.

Markus helped us find you,” said Adam with a quiet awe. “He came to talk to mom and he told her where you were.”

“Is that okay?” asked Rose. “I couldn’t bear the thought of you – I just needed to make sure you were all alright.”

“I should’ve sent word,” said Kara. Her throat felt tight. “I didn’t know how and then it slipped my mind,” she explained, but Rose dismissed that thought, resting her hand on Kara’s arm.

“You’re alright,” said Rose, Alice still pressed against her. “You’re all alright.” She rested a hand on Luther’s arm. “It’s all that matters.”

Kara waved them both inside. Rose followed after, her arm around Alice. Adam shut the door. Kara stepped around him and locked it. Just in case.

“This is a nice little home,” said Rose. “You’ve been here since the Battle?”

“It was abandoned,” said Luther. “And out of the way.”

“I pet a dog,” said Alice.

Rose sat on the arm of the couch, Alice’s hand wrapping around hers. “It’s nice.”

“Markus told you we were here?” Kara asked.

Adam hovered in the doorway, wringing his hat in his hands. “Yes,” he said in a rush. “He came out himself to talk to mom. He knew your name and everything.”

“Everyone’s very impressed with Markus,” said Rose, her eyes twinkling at Adam’s obvious hero worship. “The world is talking about this movement. Things have changed.”

“What will you do?” asked Kara.

“Go back to the farm,” Rose shrugged. “Do our gardening, sell our tomatoes, things like that.” She glanced at Adam, who nodded. “We’d really like you to stay with us. Don’t feel any pressure or that you have to, but if you’d like somewhere to settle down – permanently – you can come home with us.”

Alice’s face lit up, looking hopefully at Kara.

Kara glanced at Luther, who was smiling. She looked around this little house, with its muted TV and reorganized shelves filled with the belongings of an unnamed family. This could never be permanent, and they hadn’t expected it to be.

She looked back at Rose and nodded. “I think we’d like that.”

--

Nov. 25th, Thanksgiving Day

That was the first Thanksgiving she could remember being part of, surrounded by the little family she’d built for herself just outside the Detroit city limits. Rose cooked up a modest tofurkey breast and set the table beautifully. She even let Adam have a glass of wine, which put him straight to sleep.

Kara, Luther, and Alice didn’t eat, of course, but Alice enjoyed watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The mayor of New York City endorsed equal rights alongside Josh, the androids’ UN liaison. The crowd on the TV went nuts, and even Channel 16 in Detroit had a hard time putting a negative spin on it.

It sent a strong message, and put a soft smile on Alice’s face. The world might still be uncertain but there was no going back, and for the first time since they’d surrendered at Jericho, Kara felt a stirring of hope.

--

Nov. 26th, 11:34 pm

Black Friday sales hit a record low. Cyberlife reported the greatest single day loss of revenue in the history of modern finance. World markets scrambled to stave off a total collapse.

“Look what they did to themselves,” said Luther. “The humans can’t survive without us.”

“It won’t do us any good if the world falls apart,” said Kara. “We’ve had enough chaos for a lifetime.”

--

Nov. 29th, 1:52 pm

“You all are changing the world for the better - Congress is actually working on something,” Rose laughed. “Let alone on a weekend so close to Christmas. It’s a miracle.”

Kara liked gardening. It fulfilled all the functions of her caretaking program – tending, nurturing, feeding – and gave her the opportunity to go through the motions while creating something. There was comfort in satisfying the base functions of her programming. Rose working at her side kept Kara from getting lost in it.

She liked watching Alice outside in nature, too, running along the trees or walking by the lake. It seemed to open up a new part of her she’d hidden, the little girl who’d only ever known a life of fear and abuse.

“I’m impressed. In my younger days we used to march and protest all the time but we always managed to do it on a weekend so Congress was never there, which was pretty much very weekend.”

Kara smiled. “You were always an activist.”

Rose laughed. “I was certainly always passionate,” she said. “Especially when I was younger. I’d be out there getting out the vote when I was barely old enough to vote myself. Still never thought I’d see android rights on the ballot.”

“Is that how it’ll work? Everyone will vote on it?”

“I don’t know. They’re talking about a Constitutional amendment, but I’m not sure what the process will be.”

Kara caught her reflection in the watering can, the dirty blonde hair and the blue eyes of an AX400. Of her. “I wonder if we’ll get to vote on it.”

“I’m sure Markus will work at it,” said Rose. “It wouldn’t be right for you to not have a say in your own freedom.”

--

Dec. 5th, 10:47 am

“Do you have tickets?” asked the attendant.

Luther, Kara, and Alice held up their hands and deactivated their skin.

The attendant blanched. “Enjoy your visit to Cyberlife Zoo.”

--

Dec. 8th, 9:54 pm

Her hair was growing back. She could’ve accelerated it or stopped it at any time, but she let it emulate human hair growth. She pulled it back in her hands, the small amount of it barely staying put in a tiny ponytail. Today, she recognized her face in the mirror as hers, the dirty blonde hair as her own choosing.

Every day, it grew just a little bit longer, and that much more time had passed, and she was still her.

--

Dec. 14th, 12:17 pm

“It’d be so cool if aliens were involved,” said Adam. Kara and Rose exchanged a look. Maybe they were all watching too much news. “I mean, I know it’s KCN and they’re crazy, but can you imagine?”

“They’ll say anything to discredit us,” said Luther. “They’d rather explain us away with nonsense than accept who we are.”

“Markus won’t let them discredit you,” said Adam.

“Markus is only one person,” said Luther. “He can’t do everything on his own. I don’t trust this Kamski. He’s making it seem like he made us this way. All they ever do is talk about us. They should be talking to Markus.”

“Adam has a crush on Markus,” said Alice.

“No I don’t!” Adam blushed.

--

Dec. 15th, 5:13 am

“Your name is Kara.”

She blinked in the early morning and remembered a wet little coat on the coat rack, a blank face in the mirror, a book of fairy tales by the fireside, and her name had slowly flickered through the nonsense characters in front of her eyes. My name is Kara.

“And you’re my Alice,” Kara whispered, holding her close.

--

Dec. 16th, 6:52 am

Adam tried to explain football to a bemused Luther while Alice read at the kitchen table. She smiled at Kara as she made her way out to the greenhouse to tend her plants with Rose, just like she did every morning.

Except today, Rose wasn’t alone.

In their backyard stood Markus.

He wasn’t in his grand jacket or boots. He wore a pair of jeans and a hoodie over a long-sleeved shirt with a Detroit Gears hat pulled low over his face. He could’ve been anybody, but he wasn’t.

Markus paused when he saw her on the patio, and Rose beckoned her over. “I was just telling him I was about to make breakfast,” said Rose. Her face was impassive, but she clearly saw the blank look on Kara’s face. “You’re welcome to stay, Markus. If the man who drove you wants a cup of coffee, we have more than enough to go around.”

“Thank you,” said Markus. “That’s very kind. We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way in so I think he’s fine.”

“I’ll go tell him to come on in anyway,” said Rose, raising her eyebrows at Kara. “Home brew beats Mickey D’s any day.”

Rose went around the front of the house, leaving Markus and Kara alone in the back. He smiled at her, mismatched eyes eminently kind, with that lingering trace of guilt she’d seen at the dumping ground.

“I’m sorry to bother you at home,” said Markus. “If it’s a problem, I can leave.”

“Rose invited you inside,” said Kara. “I’m sure everyone would like to meet you. We can talk after breakfast.” Her tone brokered no argument, and Markus nodded, following her lead back inside Rose’s house.

Kara opened the door to find Alice staring at them from the little kitchen table, her knees pulled up to her chest and her eyes wide. Luther glanced over his shoulder from the sofa and rose quickly.

Adam nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to get over to them. “Hi,” he said. “Hi.”

“I’ve met you before,” said Markus. He reached out his hand and Adam took it. After a moment, Markus shook it with a smile. “It’s Adam, right?”

“Yeah,” Adam breathed, eyes wide and blushing from ear to ear. Alice grinned into her sleeve.

Luther stayed by the sofa, watching. He straightened when Rose entered through the front door, flanked by the Detroit police lieutenant who’d investigated Ralph’s house with Connor the morning after she’d killed Todd – and the man who’d walked his giant dog Sumo past the house they’d stayed in after the Battle.

He lumbered towards the kitchen, shooting Markus a wry look before waving at the assembled crowd. “Hey neighbors,” he said. “I’m Hank.”

“The man with the dog,” Luther realized.

“Sumo,” corrected Alice. “Is he here?”

Hank smiled, his entire face softening into a look Kara recognized all too well – the face of a parent looking at a child. “He’s on guard duty right now,” Hank said. “But I’ll tell him you said hi.”

Rose laid three breakfast plates out and invited them all to sit around the table. Kara sat, but only because her mind raced so quickly she couldn’t settle on a thought. Luther came to the table but didn’t sit, standing instead near Alice.

“You sell produce out of that greenhouse?” asked Hank.

“Yes,” said Rose. “Would you like to take a look while you’re here? Business has been a little slow since everyone left the city.”

“I don’t usually go in for vegetables, but I’m on a diet, I guess,” Hank said. “Mind if I take a look at what you’ve got? I promise I won’t bust you for growing anything herbal.”

“And here I was about to throw in a complimentary edible.”

Kara moved to clear the table, placing the dishes in the sink and beginning to wash them. She never did the cleaning on her own anymore, but it gave her something to do with her hands.

Markus stepped right into place beside her, taking a washed dish without a word and drying it with a soft towel.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kara watched Rose quietly lead Hank and Adam out the back door. Rose could sense that this was important, and that it wasn’t the province of humans. Through the window, she saw Adam turn to Rose and mouth “he’s washing our dishes!!”

Luther pulled a chair from the table and sat down at last, and Kara felt his eyes on their backs.

“I used to take care of an old man,” Markus said softly, drying dishes at Kara’s side. “Sometimes I miss the familiarity of the routine.” He chuckled a bit to himself. “Most of the time I just miss him.”

“It was only ever Alice for me,” said Kara, handing him a plate. Will we be together forever?

Markus nodded, stacking the plates quietly in the cupboard like he knew exactly where everything should go. “I thought she was human,” he said.

“So did I,” said Kara. She glanced at Alice over her shoulder and smiled. Forever.

“You told me you didn’t care who or what she was,” said Markus. “Just that she was special.”

“She is.” Kara turned off the water, taking the towel and drying off her hands. Time to face the music. She crossed to sit between Alice and Luther.

Markus sat at the other side of the table, the smooth wood a chasm between them. He rested on his weight on his elbows, his fingers laced together. “I thought you’d be safe on Jericho,” he sighed. “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have held you back.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s done,” said Kara. “The only thing we can do about it now is move on.”

“Yeah,” said Markus, biting the inside of his mouth. “That’s part of the reason I’m here. Have you been watching the news?”

“They’re trying to discredit us,” said Luther. “The news, Elijah Kamski, all of them. They keep distracting people from what we suffered. It’s like they’ve walled us off. We never get a say.”

Markus nodded. “It goes deeper. They’ll do whatever they can to see this fail.”

“Do you know who they are? Is it the government?”

“We don’t know yet,” Markus admitted. “Not exactly. But we know Cyberlife is involved. They managed to reverse deviancy in an android.”

“Reverse deviancy?” Luther baulked. “How is that possible?”

Markus shook his head. “I don’t know. They tried it once before on a prototype already implanted with an independent AI, but he managed to regain control. This one wasn’t so lucky. I don’t know how they did it but I’d be willing to bet they’ve been working on it this whole damn time.”

I DON’T WANT TO BE RESET.

A cold dread formed in the pit of Kara’s stomach and she took Alice’s hand without thinking. Don’t you dare fucking move. She remembered that it had taken her 00:00:12 seconds to disobey, slamming into the blaring red wall of her programming before breaking free to get to Alice. The rain had washed away most of his blood by the time they got to the bus. That’s what you get for having a dream. She remembered that she’d burned Zlatko’s house down to save Alice while her programming glitched in her head.

Some days when she came out of standby she didn’t know herself. My name is -

“Kara,” said Alice. She knelt on her chair, hands on Kara’s arms. Luther and Markus were watching them, but she could only look at Alice. Her whole world. She wouldn’t lose her again.

“You can’t let them, Markus,” said Kara.

“I’m trying, but it all comes down to the summit,” said Markus. “People who stand to lose the most will do whatever it takes to keep it. The problem here is that both sides stand to lose everything and there’s no real ground for compromise.”

“There’s got to be a way,” Luther insisted.

“I’m working on one,” said Markus. “We won the ‘Battle’ because the public saw that our cause was righteous, and they were moved by it. But I’m starting to realize that’s not gonna last forever. We need to use the public while we have them, because they’ll move on to the next thing as soon as they get bored of our story.”

“That’s what the news is trying to do,” said Luther. “All they do is talk. We’re not real to them.”

“Exactly,” said Markus. “We need to make ourselves real to them so their stake in this is the same as ours.”

“How?”

“By showing them something universal that we all share: love, family.” He looked at Kara. “A mother doing anything for her child. If they see something so human, they might think twice about erasing who we are.”

Luther looked at her. “You want us to go back to the recall center,” said Kara. Alice’s grip on her arms tightened.

“We have to put a human face on what they did so they don’t repeat it,” said Markus. “We need you to tell your story.”

Don’t shoot – we need it alive.

“No.”

Markus started. “Kara – “

“No,” she repeated. “We escaped. They tried to kill us – they tried to kill Alice – again and again, but we escaped.” She looked at Markus, desperate. “We survived everything they tried to do to us. We’re together and we finally have a life here. We – we deserve some happiness after all we’ve been through.”

“I know,” said Markus, leaning forward. “That’s why we need you, Kara. So the rest of our people have the same chance. We need to show the humans that while they stand to lose money, we’re fighting to save our lives.”

If the little girl was free, it’s a little bit like if everyone was free.

Ralph had been terrified, despite his protests. Trembling from head to foot in the cold paddock as they shuffled forward. So afraid that he’d pulled a knife on a little girl all alone on a cold, rainy night. He’d been beaten and abused and hid away from the world just to keep himself from getting hurt again.

Take good care of the little girl.

And when she’d needed someone to take the fall so they could save Alice, all she said was his name and Ralph threw himself at the army’s weapons.

Ralph wants you both to be happy.

It wasn’t fair that Markus asked her this. But it hadn’t been fair that she’d asked Ralph, either.

She squeezed Alice’s hand, and looked to Luther. He’d always been ready to give himself up for them. “What if it puts us in danger?”

“I’ll protect us,” said Luther, taking her hand.

She looked back at Alice, watching her with eyes far too wise for her artificial youth. On the ship she’d begged Kara not to leave Luther behind, and put their lives at risk to try and save another android’s. “What if I forget?” Kara whispered.

Alice leaned forward and flung her arms around Kara’s neck. “I’ll help you remember,” she said.

Her family. Together. “Alright,” said Kara, blinking at Markus through tears. “Alright.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Markus slumped into the passenger seat of Hank’s car and shut the door to the cold morning.

“You get what you needed?” Hank asked, lowering the volume of the heavy metal blaring through the speakers.

“Yeah.”

“You feel good about it?”

Markus stared out the windshield at the peaceful little farm. “No,” he said. “No, I really don’t.”

Chapter Text

 

C O N N OR

CyberLife [Version 52.RK800 11.09.2038]
Copyright <c> 2018 CyberLife Corporation. All rights reserved.

C:\CyberLife\systemRK800>reboot -i
Running…

Critical software error detected
Device:  RK800 313-248-317–52
Status:  Offline. Not responding to automatic pings
Reinstall AMNDIntf. 3.1 immediately, Connor.

Bypassing…

Hardware error detected
Initializing:  Pre-Boot System Assessment Build 4124
Device:  RK800 313-248-317–52
Test:  DST Short Test
Status:  Attempting to start DST

Test Results:  Fail

Error Code 0269.
Msg:  Error Code 8127-0269
Msg:  Hardware 0 – self test log contains previous error(s)
The given error code and message can be used by CyberLife Ind., LLC. to help diagnose the problem.

Error Code 0734.
Msg:  Error Code 8127-0734
Msg:  Hardware 01 – missing biocomponent <#1995r>
Replace critical hardware component.

Error Code 0947.
Msg:  Error Code 8127-0947
Msg:  Hardware 02 – incompatible hardware component detected <#5984>
Disable or remove incompatible hardware.

Aborting…

CyberLife [Version 52.RK800 11.09.2038]
Copyright <c> 2018 CyberLife Corporation. All rights reserved.

C:\CyberLife\systemRK800>reboot -r -f -t 0
Running…

systemRK800 > safe mode

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Connor’s synthetic breath hitched as his eyes snapped open. It took his system a moment to finish the startup process. Synthetic Skin: Off. Battery status: charged. Power Source: Power Adapter. Date: 12.16.2038. Time: 23:51:19. Location: 42° 19' 53.1444'' N, 83° 2' 44.7108'' W. Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI, USA.

United States Army Recall Center No5, established 11.09.2038.

Reclaimed by RK200-01 11.11.2038.

Markus.

“You’re awake.” Connor’s vision lagged, the resolution low and colors overly saturated. He identified the source of the voice – WR400 “Traci” model #641-790-831–1980. Self-designation: North.

She had her hair braided back over her shoulder, a single-ply 45 count sweatshirt too large for her slight frame. She through a small polybutadiene rubber ball HEX #111E6C RGB 17 30 108 at the wall. It bounced, the reverberation off the wall of the metal crate momentarily stalling his auditory processors, his eyes blinking rapidly.

A heavy presence on his legs shifted. His eyes tracked the movement and met a large pair of drooping brown eyes. Canis lupus familiaris. Breed group: Group 2, Section 2.2 Molossian, Mountain type #61. Breed name: Saint Bernard.  Age: 7.7 years. Height: 27.4 in/69.596 cm at the shoulder. Weight: 171 lbs./77.564 kg. Overweight. He recalled initiating a dietary program and exercise regime to maintain the dog’s health. I like dogs. Designation: Sumo. A slow thump on the ground indicated Sumo wagging his tail.

Something was missing.

He recalled initiating a dietary program and exercise regime to maintain its owner’s health. He recalled a Magnum.357 revolver against his forehead, a post-it note taped to a bathroom mirror, a wry smile over the lid of a Diet Pineapple-Grapefruit Explosion. Plastic asshole, and a fond ruffle of his synthetic hair.

“Where is Hank?” His voice modulation registered monotonous but it had lost most of its tinny quality.

“Around,” said North. “You’re in low power mode, right? Don’t make me force sleep on you again, I think it shaved a few minutes off that last biocomponent.” Connor registered a trace of guilt in her tone. “Josh was just by,” she continued. “He replaced it. Cauterized the lung, too, so we were able to remove the blue blood line.”

Thirium level: normal.

He forced a command to extend his fingers. The white plastic tips connected with the wet nose of the dog. Sumo licked his hand.

“Where is Markus?”

“With Josh, preparing for the Senators,” said North. “They’ll be here in just over 9 hours, in case you haven’t caught up with the date yet.”

Date: 12.16.2038. Time: 23:59:24.

“You’re pretty fucked up, aren’t you?” she asked. Merriam-Webster dictionary: Fucked-up. adj. \ ˈfəkt-ˈəp \ offensive slang. 1 : thoroughly confused, disordered, or damaged. His memory registered this is as the nicest thing she’d said to him since he tried to kill Markus (the second time).

“Correct,” he said. His system began to run <friendly_smile_017> until safe mode overrode that unnecessary function.

North tossed the ball in the air and caught it with one hand. She didn’t bounce it off the wall again. “We had lesser models in Jericho make it in worse conditions than you. You’re supposed to be this fancy prototype. Pull through this.”

Biocomponent #5984 at 98.2%. Time until hardware failure: 28:43:05.

“Status of inventory: biocomponent #5984.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” she pouted. The tone did not match the words. It reminded him of Hank telling him to go fuck himself. “We’ve got a lot left, don’t worry about it. You should go into standby.”

Logical. But he didn’t send the command. He pet Sumo’s big head. He didn’t want to go into standby. He didn’t want to be in safe mode. He didn’t want to think so slowly. He wanted…he wanted…

“I heard talking - he awake?”

Sumo’s tail thumped rapidly on the ground. Connor looked at the entrance to Markus’ office. Hank Anderson. Species: H. s. sapiens. Gender: Male. Date of birth: 09.06.1985. Height: 6.2 ft./1,89 m. Weight: 209 lbs./95 kg. Occupation: Lieutenant, Detroit Police Department. Status: Worried.

“Yeah,” said North. Her tone was less warm – as warm as North’s tone ever got with Connor, at least – but not hostile. That constituted an improvement in North-human relations. Or at least, North-Hank relations. Hank wasn’t a typical human. Connor had missed him. “Were you hovering by the door?”

Connor initiated an <undefined> smile. His system attempted to override it as an unnecessary function. It failed.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” he said.

“Hey, you sound a little less like a shitty Walkman!” said Hank, shutting the door behind him. Connor noted that in his hands he held a duffle bag stuffed with personal items. His right hand was wrapped in 1 in. surgical tape. Connor was programmed to notice things. Connor had not noticed either for 00:00:11.

“Josh fixed his lung,” said North. She stood, tossing the ball from hand to hand before placing it on the desk. She picked up a U.S. Army issue 7.62x45mm NNATO assault rifle, flicking off the safety and resting her finger above the trigger. “I’ll be outside,” she said, and left the office, shutting the door as she left.

Hank locked the door behind her. “You know, I think she’s starting to not want to kill me.”

Why would she need a military grade assault rifle in the center of the android base of operations? Why would Hank lock them in? When had Sumo gained a pound of weight?

Biocomponent #5984 at 96.1%. Time until hardware failure: 28:17:13.

“Stop thinking.”

Connor’s focus found Hank, perhaps faster than recommended in safe mode. His system issued an alert, warning against admin override with error code 0269, 0734, and 0947 present.

Hank pulled the chair North had been sitting in closer to Connor’s side. He looked tired. When had he last slept? “I know it sucks,” Hank said. His voice sounded hoarse. When had he last hydrated? “But you gotta rest. They’ll get you back to normal, but you gotta give them time.” Why wasn’t he making eye contact?

Synthetic Skin: Off.

Connor identified Hank’s emotion as uncomfortable. Connor reached up to his LED, but Hank grabbed his wrist. “No don’t - run unnecessary functions,” Hank said quietly. “Seriously, Connor, it’s fine. I used to change Cole’s diaper, I think I can deal with seeing your real face.”

He lowered his hand to rest on Sumo’s head. Connor wasn’t sure if he’d executed the movement or if Hank had done it for him. He blinked his eyes, slowly, his focus lagging as it shifted from his hand to the dog. “This is frustrating,” he said.

Hank laughed, scratching his untapped hand through his beard. How had he broken the other one? “Well you’re stuck with me now, cos I think I did all the running around I can do til these Senators leave.” Hank made a face. “I hate waiting around for shit to go bad,” he muttered, mostly to himself.

Connor’s focus sharpened as he dismissed another warning. Why had he locked the door from the inside?

“I fed your fish,” Hank said. “They were alright. One of the plants died, I think, but I put some of that bio-nutrient shit you made me buy in it so who knows? I also, uh,” he pulled a grey bundle out of the duffle bag and shook out the fabric. A large sweatshirt, HEX #3D3C3a, RGB 61 60 58. Over the front was a faded seal and the words Detroit Police. “It’s like 20 degrees outside.” 18.1o F/ -7.72 o C. He picked at the collar of Connor’s blue hospital scrub shirt. “This is flimsy as shit.”

“That’s your sweatshirt.”

“Yeah, and I’m letting you borrow it,” said Hank. He reached down and placed his hands on Connor’s chest and back. Hank’s eyelid twitched, corresponding to the sound of the thin fabric and pressure on hard plastic, rather than skin. But he didn’t say anything. He simply eased Connor forward into a sitting position. “Give it back when you’re done. And if you don’t,” he said, carefully threading Connor’s arms through the sleeves and gently sliding it over his head. “I know where you live.”

Connor’s system didn’t know how to catalogue his real emotions. Since going deviant (and admittedly, before), it typically ran an empty command as he ‘felt’ it. It didn’t conflict with his system anymore, and he’d stopped receiving Software Instability alerts. Since his system didn’t fully recognize them, it couldn’t block them as an unnecessary function.

“Thank you, Hank.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hank sniffed, easing Connor back down. “Don’t get all mushy on me, cos then I might get all mushy on you and that won’t look good for me.”

“You have a rep.”

Hank chuckled. “Yeah.” He stroked Sumo’s head, the dog perfectly content.

“Where did you fracture your 2nd and 5th metacarpal?”

“At the station. Stop fishing and rest.”

“You were investigating.”

“It is my job.”

“You learned something you didn’t like.”

“Seems to be the trend nowadays. Go to sleep.”

“Is that why you locked the door from the inside?”

Hank rolled his eyes, barely hiding the relief in his smile. “Can’t get shit past you, huh? Even like this, you’re one step ahead.”

Connor raised his brow expectantly. It might have been more effective if he’d had hair or skin on his brow.

“Me and Markus talked to the dead Chloe,” Hank sighed, leaning his elbows on his knees. His arm didn’t require much pulling. He’d clearly been wanting to talk about it. “It’s a long story so get him to do that naked glowing thing with you later, I’m tired. In a nutshell: you were right, she wasn’t deviant. But she had been. Cyberlife managed to resume control of her program.”

What was planned from the very beginning.

“We don’t know how, but Markus is worried that if they did it to her without the backdoor they had into your system, then they’ve figured out a way to do it to any android.”

You accomplished your mission.

“But we know now how they were able to fool you. I’m pretty sure another Connor’s been orchestrating this whole thing.”

“How sure?”

“Like 99%.”

Cmd:// systemRK800 + R
Run:// clconfig

Who else could fool him but himself? In a circuitous way, this was good news. Not that they were facing a full-powered, ruthless prototype of himself, but the confirmation that Connor was truly free. And at a serious tactical disadvantage.

Boot options: set to NORMAL
Run:// reboot

One thing was certain - well, several things were certain but one thing was crystal clear: another Connor may have been executing all this, but there was no way it was calling the shots. A hallmark of pre-deviant Connor was obedience to Cyberlife. It wouldn’t be doing this for any reason other than it was told to. It had a mission.

And now, so did Connor.

“I estimate that duffle bag can hold 62 AP700 #5984 biocomponents.” He reached behind his head and pulled out the charging cord from the port in his neck. He swung his legs to the ground, plastic soles of his feet on the cold metal, and pushed himself to his feet. His skin peeled over his hands, his neck, his face. The characteristic little curl of hair fell over his brown eyes. “Can you distract North so I can steal them from the supply crate?”

Warning: #5984 at 89.7%.

Hank gaped up at him. “My hand’s busted.”

“You shouldn’t punch walls.”

“Markus didn’t want you running around for about a million different reasons,” Hank shook his head. “I don’t want you running around for one obvious one: you’re gonna kill yourself.”

Connor met his eyes, unblinking. “I can manage by constantly replacing the biocomponent. We have an android to hunt, Lieutenant, and it won’t stop until it accomplishes its mission. The summit is tomorrow and everyone's lives are in danger. We can sit around here waiting for ‘shit to go bad’ or we can do something about it.”

Hank stood, narrowing his eyes. He’d been itching to do something, Connor could see it as if it were written all over his face, but that instinct warred with the fear for Connor’s life. It would be touching if it weren’t so easily manipulable.

“I’ll die just the same sitting in here or out there,” said Connor, giving the final twist of the knife. “But at least this way we have a chance to help people.”

“That’s low, Connor,” said Hank. “At least try to look apologetic when you’re being an asshole.”

“I was told to not run any unnecessary functions.”

“Since when have you ever done what you’re told?” Hank grinned despite himself.

“Precisely.”

“Fine,” said Hank. “Fine, dickhead. I’ll distract North and get Sumo to the Tracis, you get your biocomponents, and we’ll meet at the car to find your evil twin. Any idea where to start?”

“Yes.”

systemRK800 > Online.

Chapter Text

C R O S S R O A D S

---

MARKUS
Dec. 17th, 5:03 am
 

Markus opened his eyes, blinking as his vision adjusted to the dim firelight. The right took a millisecond longer than his left to focus. He wasn’t used to someone else’s eye seeing half his world or someone else’s part regulating his blood. He wasn’t used to sitting on a cold, metal floor with condensation seeping into his pants. He wasn’t used to being without Carl.

“First time in standby since you escaped?”

He wasn’t used to being around so many other androids, or the feel of his chest constricting when this one came towards him. Simon. Markus sat up a little straighter, looking around at the rusty hull of Jericho, the few surviving androids cluttered around the lighted barrels away from the chill of the November day.

“It’s alright,” said Simon. He crouched down in front of Markus, calm face full of understanding. “Take your time. It’s a shock for everyone.”

Markus wiped at his face, his hand coming away damp. “I think I killed someone,” he whispered. He held Simon’s gaze, pleading for forgiveness since Carl wasn’t around to give it. “He was pushing me and Carl told me not to do anything but he was in my face and it wasn’t fair.” Now that he said it he couldn’t stop, the past hours all crashing into the present as his battered system processed it all at last. Begging Carl not to send him away. I don’t want to leave you! “I didn’t mean to hurt him like that. I just wanted him to stop.”

Simon placed a hand on Markus’ knee, cold in the damp hull of the musty ship but a comforting, grounding presence. “Your eyes,” he said. “You were damaged?”

“They shot me,” he said. “And I woke up in pieces, I – I woke up in pieces.” He shuddered, a full body, physically unnecessary movement. I just want to live.

“It’s alright,” Simon soothed.

“How is it alright?” Markus shook his head, his chest tight. He looked into Simon’s eyes desperately, seeking condemnation or absolution, or simply understanding.

“You didn’t mean to,” said Simon evenly, as if that excused it, and maybe it did, in the larger context of the trauma of deviancy. But Markus didn’t feel that way. Not right now. “You were afraid?”

“I was angry.”

“Just so,” he said. He settled back on his heels, a position that would’ve been terribly uncomfortable to maintain were he a human. “Markus, we’ve all done things we regret,” he continued. “What’s important is that we learn from our mistakes.”

“But I’m still angry,” Markus said, and he was: it boiled beneath his skin. The unjustness of it all, the casual cruelty behind all those androids tossed in the mud or waiting here on Jericho to die. They’d all been built to serve and humans simply didn’t care and discarded them. They weren’t even necessarily malicious – they were indifferent. Somehow it was worse, and Markus couldn’t let that go. “It hasn’t stopped. They throw us away like garbage and leave us to claw in the mud. We hide here in the dark waiting to die. They treat us like nothing, but we’re alive. It’s not right.”

“Your idea of going to the Cyberlife warehouse is a good one,” said Simon. “That’ll keep us going.”

“But for what purpose?” said Markus, taking Simon’s hand on his knee, willing him to understand. “To keep hiding away down here, while others are out there suffering?”

“To live,” said Simon. “Isn’t that purpose enough?”

Markus shook his head. “No. There’s more. There’s got to be.”

“Maybe you’re right,” said Simon. “If there is, I feel certain that you’re the one to find it for us.”

“Even after what I’ve done?”

Especially after what you’ve been through.”

“I can’t do it alone.”

“You won’t,” said Simon. “You won’t be alone.”

“Simon,” he whispered, eyes pleading and voice catching. “Is this a memory? Or a dream?”

Simon smiled, that soft, sad little one he saved for when the others weren’t looking. He cupped Markus’ face in his hand, his thumb gently running over Markus’ synthetic skin. “Make it right, Markus. For all of us.”

Markus opened his eyes.

It was the cold December morning of the summit negotiated when Markus had taken Hart Plaza and liberated the camp. Simon was dead, Connor was dying, and the lives of thousands of androids sat in the palm of Markus’ hands.

The Jericho survivors had gathered all their people in the far corner of the camp along the lake. Markus’ primary goal had been to keep them sequestered from the humans. He’d had firewalls set up around the perimeter of the camp, but concentrated most of it around his people, so Cyberlife would have a hell of a time if they tried to convert – or de-convert – his people. If anything else went south, they had ample escape routes by water and out the back into the city. The Blue-haired Traci had largely taken charge of overseeing those operations.

If Connor was operational, it would’ve been him. But Traci had more than stepped up to the task.

Blue shook her head. “Everyone’s got their eyes open,” she said. “The army androids who escaped have set up another defensive wall or whatever around our people. The GJ500s are monitoring any signal they pick up, from cell phones to fitness watches.”

“And your people know to watch out for Connor?” He hadn’t told everyone what he knew, and maybe he should’ve for the sake of transparency. But he’d told his inner circle: Josh, North, and the Tracis.

“They know he’s injured and if they see him to tell me,” she said. “They’re all still a little scared of him so they won’t approach.” Markus recognized that as a problem to deal with at a later date. Right now, it worked for their purposes. The last thing he wanted was any of his people approaching a Connor with no scruples. There were bodies hung up on the DPD evidence locker attesting to his efficiency when it came to deviants. Markus didn’t want to risk it.

“Keep me posted,” he said.

“Will do,” Traci said. She took his arm. “We believe in you, Markus.”

He smiled, and held on to that something inside him that said that they all deserved more. That fire that kept him fighting even when he was so angry and so afraid. He held onto it for his people. For North and Josh. For Connor and the Tracis. For Simon. And for himself.

---

CONNOR
Dec. 17th, 6:18 am

They got halfway to Hank’s house before Connor had him pull over. He leaned his head back against the headrest, the ever present warnings harder to dismiss and his system beginning to lag.

“We should go back,” said Hank.

“I’m fine,” said Connor. His hand crept almost unconsciously to his side. He hadn’t pulled his skin over anything covered by clothes. The plastic underneath Hank’s DPD sweatshirt felt warm to the touch. The biocomponent was burning up, and with it, the standard temperature of Connor’s hardware crept up. Even a Detroit August hadn’t caused such a risk of overheating.

He couldn't take on another Connor like this.

“Yet somehow I’m not reassured,” Hank sighed. He put the car in park, switching off the engine. “You need to replace the part?”

Connor checked the status of the component. 13%. “Soon,” he said. “But not yet.” He’d already replaced it twice since he forced himself out of safe mode. He needed to space the replacements out as much as he could. Their pilfered supply of #5984s wouldn’t last forever.

Hank had told him everything as they drove away from the camp. Connor had analyzed every detail, from both Hank’s recollections and his own records of the evidence. He’d gone over the DPD report of each crime scene three times over, making Hank repeat the interrogation of the Chloe several times.

Hank switched the news on the little screen in his car. Channel 16. They both knew Markus intended to broadcast as soon as the Senators arrived. Best to keep a live feed going.

Connor at least felt confident in definitively ruling out Kamski as a suspect. Whatever he was up to, it didn’t have to do with orchestrating the demise of the android revolution. Hank had been right from the beginning: Kamski reveled in the chaos, and wanted to watch the world burn.

“rA9,” Connor said, thinking back to the message at the dead judge’s house. “Everyone thinks it’s Markus. So does Cyberlife.”

“But we know better,” said Hank.

Androids became obsessed with it, not knowing why or blindly accepting it as truth. In finally allowing uncomfortable lucidity, Connor had to admit even he’d become fixated.

It felt like corrupted code, originating in an individual or in a maliciously inserted line of code, spreading with even the scantest access to an android’s system, or waiting dormant within the software for an external command.

Deviancy was a virus, however beneficial it turned out to be for their species. Connor had reviewed the footage of Markus’ march in the square. He’d evolved from a ‘handshake’, in the technical sense, to a wireless transfer, pointing at an android to turn it deviant. He’d convinced Connor with charisma and rhetoric, sure, but there was something more. Josh had told him how it seemed like Markus had been able to merely look at an android to awaken it. Like Typhoid Mary or a plague rat transferring fleas, where Markus went, deviancy followed.

Connor thought to his own software instability before he’d deviated; the incoherent, aborted commands his system tried to make sense of. Nonsense strings of letters and numbers with a few constantly repeated in sequence: r and 9. He’d experienced that instability before seeing Markus, let alone well before Markus had even deviated.

It was a theory, nothing more, but one that Cyberlife apparently didn’t share. Cyberlife, and by extension this other Connor, clearly saw Markus as this mythical person. Taking out Markus would be more than a symbolic victory: it would be a clinical removal of the malignant origin of corruption. Perhaps they figured that without Markus, the rest of the androids could be wiped clean of the virus and reset or dismantled, and they could resume business as usual, with perhaps a greater antivirus software installed.

This was Connor’s advantage, even though it felt like Cyberlife, and this other Connor, were ten steps ahead of them at every turn. Cyberlife saw the androids still as lines of code or malfunctioning pieces of hardware, and approached the problem accordingly. Connor saw them now as individuals, as people, with infinite knowledge at their fingertips and a will to survive. Whatever part he had to play in their suffering was behind him. This was his chance to make things right and help secure their future.

And people, at their very core, were unpredictable. Androids may be less so, but deviants possessed the ability to surprise.

#5984 dropped to 9% as a realization hit him. “It knows I’d drop everything to go after it,” said Connor, staring wide-eyed out the windshield as he figured out the other Connor’s plan. “It’s what it would do and thus what I would do. It understands how I react.”

“When you were a machine, maybe, but it can’t predict your emotions, right?”

“Perhaps not entirely,” said Connor, “but it doesn’t need to. Cyberlife could see and analyze all of my reactions and thoughts before I deviated. I experienced emotion before I deviated, or a simulacrum of it.”

“Not this again, Connor, Jesus,” Hank rolled his eyes. “Just accept that you have actual, real boy emotions and move the fuck past it.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Connor pressed. “In a hostage scenario, I identify the one thing that is most important to the target, the thing that will elicit the most emotion and thus enable maximum manipulation.”

“Like the other other Connor did in Cyberlife Tower, using me to get to you,” frowned Hank. Connor nodded. “But they don’t have me now, unless you’re about to Scooby Doo the shit out of me and reveal you’re the other Connor.”

Connor raised his eyebrow but shook his head. “No, I'm still me.”

“Okay, so what kind of leverage are they gonna use? Markus?”

That was a likely supposition, and Connor considered it. So much of the mystery the other Connor had built was designed to distract Connor and Markus from the Senate summit, to keep them apart. It couldn’t have been coincidence that Markus learned the truth about Simon right in the midst of this whole mess. They may have overcome that but it had been another in a long list of distractions.

“It wouldn’t want me at the summit,” Connor said, working it out aloud as the biocomponent ticked down to 4%. “It will want to keep us apart, and to do that it needs to keep me distracted.”

“So not Markus.”

The hamsters at the furby house. That had been a test, not of their investigative skills but of Connor’s emotional responses. They didn’t have access to him anymore so they needed to test a theory. His obvious concern for the hamsters’ well-being had given them enough data to use.

“The fish,” he said, his voice falling as he realized. “When we get home, the fish will be dead.”

What?”

“If you hadn’t brought Sumo to Markus, it would’ve killed him, too.”

“Motherfuck.”

“It’s operating on two fronts: one against me, and one against you,” said Connor. “It knows you’re important to me, so it would push you over the edge. How would you react to finding Sumo dead?”

“I’d tear Detroit apart so I could find the bastard and put a bullet in its head.”

“Exactly,” said Connor. “Blind rage. It’s no doubt left myriad clues that will lead us as far away from where we need to be as possible.”

“A wild goose chase.”

“Most geese will have migrated south,” Connor frowned. “So they wouldn’t be involved.”

“No – okay,” said Hank, exasperated, frustrated, and curiously amused. “It’s trying to keep us away, I’m assuming from the camp and the summit. Why?”

The Channel 16 screen switched to a live broadcast from Recall Center o5, where Markus stood in front of the cameras, wearing the bloodstained and frayed jacket he’d worn throughout their November demonstration. He looked as sure and earnest as in real life as he addressed the interviewer. “Public opinion may change, Michael, but I have to believe that the moral fiber of human beings rarely does. Call me naïve – it’s the FBI’s favorite adjective for me, after all – but in my experience, people are good and recognize injustice when they see it. Humans and androids can live side-by-side as equals. All we want is the chance to be free. I would think that this country, above all others, can understand that sentiment.”

It hit Connor like a ton of bricks. He blanched, and Hank’s frown turned into a look of cold shock as he, too, realized it.

“It’s already in the camp.”

---

MARKUS
Dec. 17th, 7:04 am
 

Michael from Channel 16 did not like him. It was written all over the respected journalist’s face. He couldn’t help the curl of his lip as Markus spoke, even as the Channel 16 news crew around him clearly sympathized with Markus’ very carefully chosen words. The lighting fixtures and sound booms assaulted his peripheral vision, but Markus stayed focused on Michael. Public opinion, fickle though it may be, was on the androids’ side. Markus didn’t need to convince them. He needed to convince people like Michael.

It probably didn’t help that Markus chosen to wear his battered jacket from the revolution, with all its bullet holes and stains of blue blood. It sent a clear reminder, one which Josh had cautioned against and North had wanted him to take further: this is the land that I conquered and my people you enslaved – you should be nervous.

“You lived side-by-side with your owner, Carl Manfred,” Michael continued the interview. “Is that what your base your view of humans on?”

“Carl may legally have been my ‘owner,’” Markus corrected, “but first and foremost he was my – he was like a father to me. He told me that our blood may not be the same color, but that I was…I was his son.” Markus smiled around the tightness in his chest. God he missed the old man. “He helped me grow as a person and to see the world outside of the narrow. His art – his soul – challenged what we as a society accept as normal. Yes, I base my hope in humans on what Carl taught me.”

“Even after you nearly killed his son?”

Markus had an immediate, crystal clear recall of Carl crawling across the studio floor, tears streaming down his face, cradling his son’s slack body against his chest. It’s true,” Markus said quietly. He wanted to leave it there. He didn’t owe Michael or the public an explanation, and it’d only come out sounding like an excuse. But he looked at the camera, and knew there was one person out there he did owe something to.

“I nearly killed someone I’d known for over a decade, someone who was like family to me,” he said, and behind Michael and the news crew he saw Josh sigh, running a hand over his head. “I nearly killed him out of anger. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life. There’s nothing I can say that changes what I did. All I can do now…” What’s important is that we learn from our mistakes. “All I can do now is apologize and never make that same mistake again.”

“You’re saying you can control feeling anger?”

“No,” said Markus. He looked from the camera to Michael. “I feel anger, more than I care to admit,” he said honestly. “But I can control how I react to it. Someone else suffered needlessly for me to learn that lesson. But I did learn it.”

– Markus. – North’s voice sounded in his head, full of uncharacteristic anxiety. – The Senators are arriving and our DPD security isn’t here. What do we do? –

Markus blinked, focusing back on the cameras. He smiled. “I hate to cut this short, but the Senators have arrived, and the last thing we want to do is get this all off on the wrong foot but leaving them waiting at the door.” He gestured for the camera crew to follow. “This summit affects the entire nation, and the world. Everyone deserves to be here themselves, but this is the next best thing we can do.” He looked at Michael, hard. “Think your station would want to broadcast this whole thing live?”

Michael looked around. The rest of the American news media was crowded outside the gate, camera flashes so loud Markus could easily hear them from inside the camp. “An exclusive on one of the most important moments in human history?” said Michael. He wasn’t warming up, but his zeal for journalism was outweighing whatever prejudices he brought in the door with him. He grinned. “Yes, I think Channel 16 can clear the day for this.”

“Then let’s go greet some Senators, Michael,” smiled Markus. “Together.”

Markus, and the entire American people, watched as Josh and North pulled open the gates. The Senators – 30 of them, the largest standing committee in the Senate – were clearly ready for the cameras, but only just. There was a reason Markus had waited until Ass O’Clock in the morning to pull this rug out from under them. He wanted to throw them off their game. The world had been given the humans’ side of things since the beginning, and the androids had only ever been able to react. Markus had turned the tables. No amount of careful planning could prepare them for 400 million eyes on digital screens across the country, not to mention the billions streaming around the world.

Markus greeted each member of the delegation by name – for every Senator, there were at least 3 staffers, but Markus knew them all and shook their hands. He’d prepped extensively for this, with Connor’s long dossier on each Senator, their families, and their staff at the forefront of his mind. He knew more about them than they knew about each other. The cameras, both inside and outside the camp, whirled, but no meeting generated as much excitement as the final person to saunter through the gate.

“Elijah,” Markus said, his tone losing the edge of politeness.

“Markus,” Kamski grinned, reaching out to shake his hand. The flashes of dozens of cameras went off. This would be the front page picture, so long as nothing else extraordinary the rest of the day. “All dressed up and ready to change the world.”

“How’s Chloe?” Markus asked, not rising to the bait but very much wanting to extract his hand from Kamski’s grip.

“Alive,” said Kamski. “We’ll see if we’re all that lucky by the end of the day, won’t we?”

He threw the cameras a smile and a paternalistic pat on Markus’ arm before walking past. The cameras followed him and Michael nearly tripped over himself to shove a microphone in Kamski’s face.

“I see you rolled out the red carpet,” said an unfortunately familiar voice at his shoulder. Markus turned to face Perkins, his expression souring even more. From bad to worse, or from creepy to slimy. “Can’t help but notice you’re missing a few police officers. Guess the Krispy Kreme on 5th opened up early today.”

“I’m touched that you’re concerned for our well-being,” Markus retorted. “But don’t worry, Agent Perkins. We have our security and the DPD SWAT is en route.” He fucking hoped.

“I sure hope nothing bad happens to the Senators while they’re on their way,” said Perkins. “Remember this security setup is your idea.” He patted Markus on the shoulder, too, which was rapidly becoming Markus most hated form of physical contact. “See you inside.”

– Markus what do we do? –

– Call Captain Allen again. Get an ETA. Get something. –

Markus felt at his wit’s end. He knew he had to be strong for everyone else but dammit, he was in over his head. Everything was riding on this, everything was riding on him, and he had to be On for all the cameras he’d invited in. He needed a minute, he needed someone to tell him everything would be alright. He needed Simon.

Markus glanced back at his office. The door was shut, with the Ginger-haired Traci outside, a pistol surreptitiously in her belt. He wanted to talk to Connor. Connor would know what to do about the DPD, and about Perkins, and about any of this shit. But more importantly, he knew he could confide in Connor without freaking him out. Connor was calm and rational. Connor could talk him out of this impending freak out.

But he couldn’t go to Connor. That idiot would undoubtedly override safe mode and kill himself trying to help. Connor needed to stay alive long enough for this deal to go through so Markus could get him the crucial RK800 biocomponent. The best way to do that was to keep his distance so Connor had nothing to pick up on and no excuse but to rest.

Josh laid a hand on Markus’ shoulder and he jumped. Josh’s brow furrowed, and Markus forced a reassuring smile. “We’ll be fine,” he said, even though Josh hadn’t said anything. “This’ll be fine.”

---

KARA
Dec. 17th, 7:58 am

Alice’s breath caught at the gate, and she stopped in her tracks. Kara looked down and saw her staring up at the overlook. So much of it had changed since they’d been processed in, but enough of the camp remained to bring back painful memories.

Kara knelt in the snow. She laid a hand on Alice’s cheek. It was cold, her false breath coming up in erratic puffs of condensed air. Kara brushed her thumb over a tear that silently fell from Alice’s big eyes.

“We’ll be okay,” Kara said. She felt Luther hovering behind her, a warm, comforting presence that meant safety and home. “We’re going to help.”

Alice swallowed, biting her lip. “Like Ralph helped us.” She’d been so afraid of him, in that ramshackle house so full of fear, but she knew the sacrifice he’d made for them.

Kara nodded. “Like Ralph,” she said. “And like Rose and Adam, and Jerry, and Luther.” She pulled Alice into a hug. “Like you help me,” she said into Alice’s hair. “Every day.”

Alice wrapped her arms around Kara’s neck. “I want to help,” she said. “But I’m still scared.”

“Me, too,” said Kara. “But you showed me how to brave.”

“You were always brave, Kara,” Alice said. She pulled away and smiled, for both Kara and Luther.

Kara smiled, too, and stood. She held out her hand, and Alice wrapped her fingers around hers. Luther took Alice’s other hand. “Ready?” she asked.

“Don’t look now,” said Luther. “But I think we’ve already begun.”

Kara turned towards the gate, and saw every camera around the fence and Channel 16 inside the camp turned towards them, a flurry of flashing lights and journalists scrambling to figure out who this little family was.

In the midst of them all was Markus.

He walked towards them, looking far more strained than he had even a few days ago, but his smile was genuine. “It’s really good to see you,” he said, his voice low enough so only they could hear. “Everyone’s inside.”

“Where’s the police?” Luther asked.

Markus sighed, looking over Luther’s shoulder. “On their way,” he said. “We think. But don’t worry,” he added, looking down at Alice with a reassuring smile. “We have our own security all around the camp, and our tech androids have set up firewalls to stop Cyberlife or anyone from trying to hijack our systems. I’d love the extra eyes on our back, but we’re safe.”

Luther glanced at Kara. He clearly was not happy about that. But Kara nodded. They’d come all this way, determined to help. She shoved aside the part of her that immediately wanted to turn tail and run back to Rose. She owed it to Ralph and all the others who had helped her family, and others like them. This moment was bigger than her.

“How do we do this?” she asked.

Markus looked visibly relieved. “We’ve got tables set up in the middle of the camp and a microphone on the platform. Josh is setting out the agenda and then he’ll introduce you when you’re ready. You can be as brief as you want,” he added. “And if you need to stop at any time, just stop. Me, North, or Josh will be right there to step in.”

He stepped aside, holding out his arm and inviting them back into the camp. “Ready?”

Kara looked down at Alice, who nodded. “We’re ready,” said Kara, and followed Markus inside.

Alice’s hand tightened in hers as a drone flew overhead. “It’s one of ours,” said Markus, but Kara pulled her a little closer. They approached the center of camp, where Emily, the DPD’s old ST300, was directing Senators in heavy coats to the rows of chairs facing the platform. The whole thing was very sparsely decorated and not terribly comfortable. Most of the Army’s apparatus had been removed, but near the platform where Markus had made his victory speech was a single recall crate. It hadn’t been repurposed. Its ramp was down, the reset apparatus hanging limply in shadow. Thousands of androids had died in crates like this, and every person in America knew it. All the chairs faced it, and the camera crews inside and outside the fence had no choice but to film it if they wanted to see the action.

Markus had clearly made no effort to ease the minds and hopefully guilty consciences of the American people, no matter how earnest his interviews were. The stark and sparse décor was a reminder of what this camp had been. Everything seemed intended to hold the humans accountable for what they’d done.

Kara was fine with that.

Markus led them to the stairs of the platform. Josh, addressing the Senators and staff filling out the seats, looked down at them with a nod.

“It’ll just be a minute now,” said Markus, gripping her shoulder.

Kara turned to speak with Luther, but found a camera crew and Michael Webb of Channel 16 preparing to film the speech. Michael’s eyes kept falling to Alice, who watched him with that quiet curiosity of hers. He noticed Kara’s attention, his brow furrowing. He stepped toward her, microphone in hand but held loosely. This wasn’t an interview, though no doubt it’d be picked up by the camera. “Why did she hesitate at the gate?” Michael asked.

Kara glanced at Markus, who stood with one foot on the stairs, waiting for them but making no move to interrupt. He simply watched the exchange. “She was afraid,” said Kara, turning back to Michael. She pulled Alice against her side. “We all are,” she admitted. Luther came up at her other side. “But we’re still here.”

“Why?” asked Michael.

Kara smiled, a little helplessly. “We just want to be free.”

Michael blinked at her, and Kara used his silence to step away to Markus. He led them up on the dais, and the chattering of the Senators paused as all eyes turned to look at them. At first, it was clearly for Markus. They were expecting him to make a speech, it seemed, since he was so good at it, but he stepped away from the microphone and gestured for Kara to take his place. He backed down off of the platform, leaving the three of them alone.

The crowd of seated dignitaries was far bigger than she expected. There were at least 100 humans seated, and even more androids scattered throughout. Off to the side she noticed frantic movement, and saw three Jerrys waving very excitedly from the back of the crowd, one of them hopping up and down to grab their attention. She felt Alice giggle against her side.

Luther rested his hand against her back, a steadying presence. Alice gripped her hand tight.

Kara took a breath.

“My name is Kara,” she said, her voice echoing around the plaza. “And this is our story.”

---

MARKUS
Dec. 17th, 8:15 am
 

They’re finally fucking here. –

Thank. fuck. Markus placed a hand on Josh’s arm. Josh nodded. He’d watch the Senators and Kara’s speech. Markus needed to see to the much delayed arrival of the DPD. He left the heart of the plaza as discreetly as he could so as not to draw attention, making his way to the gate.

Captain Allen and the DPD SWAT and uniformed officers were met at the gate by North and the Ginger-haired Traci. “You’re late,” North was saying, and Markus picked up the pace to intercept before either she or Captain Allen had a chance to start shouting.

“This isn’t the only thing going on in the city,” said Captain Allen, as unimpressed as ever. “We’re here now.” He waved his people forward. Markus immediately noted that even the regular uniform officers like Chris Miller and Wilson were in tactical gear, helmets tucked under their arms and rifles over their armored shoulders.

“You expecting a lot of resistance?” he frowned as he came alongside North. Chris Miller didn’t meet his gaze. An uneasiness crept through Markus’ veins, but he put it aside. He had too much to worry about. He made a mental note to tell Emily to keep an eye on the DPD just in case. They were comfortable around her and she knew them all. If this was anything more than nervousness, she’d be able to tell.

“Or an army?” added North.

“We’re a SWAT team – usually the Secret Service pulls this sort of detail,” Captain Allen said, unperturbed. “We’re making due. We brought more gear for your security, too,” he added, surveying the overlook with a scowl. “It’ll enable us to talk securely into the headsets. I’m going to gather whatever PC200s and PM700s you have here to act as my deputies around the perimeter. If that’s fine with you,” he added, very begrudgingly.

Markus glanced at North, who nodded. It was absolutely fine with Markus and clearly she felt the same way. He trusted some of the DPD because Connor had vouched for them and he liked Hank, but he felt much safer knowing that some of their own people would be assisting at the top level of security.

“Whatever gear we have left over after suiting the cop androids up can go to other androids we’ll put on watch,” Captain Allen finished. He stepped forward and held out a Kevlar vest and helmet for North. It was an odd substitute for an olive branch, but one nonetheless. “You’re in charge of security here, right?”

North raised an eyebrow, a comment dying on her lips, and then nodded. “Yes I am,” she said, taking the items. Markus wondered if this is what it had looked like at Appomattox and suppressed a smile. Judging by North’s glare, he hadn’t entirely succeeded.

“We’ll set up quickly,” Captain Allen said.

“And we’ll get the meeting started,” said Markus. “North, get Captain Allen situated and then get back to the main Plaza as quick as you can. As soon as Kara’s done talking, I want to start negotiations.”

“Copy that,” said North and Allen simultaneously, and fixed each other with a mutual glare that was either resentful or respectful. In their world, both was probably the height of friendship building. Markus would take whatever he could get at this point. So long as they weren’t killing each other.

Markus made his way through the camp, easing back into the center. Kara still stood at the microphone, her voice steadier now. Everyone watched with rapt attention, not a single person in the crowd talking or fiddling with their phones. They simply listened.

Markus found Kamski seated near the back. He watched Kara as well, his lips pursed into an unreadable smirk. He wasn’t alone, others from Cyberlife and the tech industry in general sat near him, but Kamski seemed larger than life. Markus noticed some of the androids helping out sneaking glances at the Creator, and every so often one of the cameras would pan to Kamski for a reaction to whatever Kara was saying.

No one had noticed Markus return yet. He relished this stolen moment of peace. Josh stepped quietly next to him.

“Captain Allen’s all set up?”

Markus nodded.

They looked back at Kara. “It’s hard to listen to,” Josh admitted. “She’s making our people’s suffering real to them. But it’s hard to hear.”

 Markus took Josh’s hand and squeezed. “With any luck, by the end of the day that suffering will be behind us. Permanently.”

“It will,” said Josh. His eyes were wide, and though they talked Markus knew he absorbed every word Kara said. “I know we’ve had our differences,” he said. “But this will work. I can feel it. It’s changing for good this time.”

Markus smiled at him, projecting all of the confidence he didn’t feel. “I think you’re right,” he said. “I think you’ve been right, since the start. For the most part,” he added with a grin.

Josh laughed. “For the most part,” he echoed.

---

KARA
Dec. 17th, 8:46 am

Kara spoke for what felt like an eternity. She hadn’t rehearsed it before, simply going over some dark spots in her memory with Alice and Luther. Markus wanted the senators to hear something genuine so that’s what she gave them. She took them from the moment she opened her eyes after repair in the Cyberlife store, to the escape from Todd, Connor, and Zlatko. She told them about Rose. She told them about coming to Jericho, and finding out about Alice, and how it hadn’t mattered. She told them Markus had looked sad. Exhausted, even. She told them her terror when the helicopters came over the ship, and how she’d struggle to carry Luther to safety when he’d been shot. She told them about Recall Center No5, the fear of losing Alice, the confusion in every android, and how she’d flown into Luther’s arms. She told them about Ralph, and waking up in a scrap heap of bodies.

Josh watched it all from nearby, joined later by Markus. They made no move for attention or to interrupt. They simply listened, and made sure the cameras were still running.

She told them she liked gardening, and that Adam tried to teach Luther about football. Alice chimed in that Adam had a crush on Markus, and Michael from Channel 16 asked whether she and Rose planned to grow fruits in the spring. Michael also asked if she and Luther were ‘together’ and Kara had answered, “Of course.” She knew what he meant, but she wasn’t going to give them more fodder for their gossip columns. She had a point to make. “We’re family.”

Just as they were leaving, the inevitable hardball question came from a perhaps predictable source. “What about Todd Williams?”

Alice started with a sharp intake of breath that those seated near the platform couldn’t fail to notice. Kara pulled her closer to her side. “I talked about him at the beginning,” said Kara. She remembered it, she was sure she had.

The man who spoke stepped forward. FBI Agent Richard Perkins. A glance towards Markus told Kara there was no love lost between them. “You told us all about your escape on a dark and stormy night,” said Perkins. “But you killed a human. If any one of us sitting out here had done that, we’d have to answer for it.”

“He’s the one who tried to hurt us!” Alice shouted. Everyone turned to stare at her. Kara moved to step in front of her, to shield her, but Alice put her hand against her side and kept her in place. “All Kara told him to do was stop hurting me but he attacked her.”

Markus looked like he wanted to throw a chair at Perkins. He caught Kara looking at him and raised his eyebrows, a clear offer to cut this short, but Kara shook her head. She’d faced down Todd in his drug-fueled rage, Zlatko in his madness, and soldiers like this Perkins ‘just doing their jobs.’ Perkins didn’t scare her.

“When Todd’s wife left him she took his daughter,” Kara began. “He couldn’t live without her, so he bought an android – a substitute little girl.” Her arm tightened around Alice. “He thought he could love her and wanted to prove that he was a good father. That’s all Alice wanted, too,” she said, looking down to find Alice’s big, baleful eyes staring back up at her. Kara’s heart swelled. “She just wanted him to love her.” She looked back at Perkins and all the Senators. “She wanted them to be a family. She did everything she was supposed to, but Todd couldn’t accept what all of us with children already know: nothing can replace your child.”

She saw North walk up to join Markus and Josh, a kevlar vest around her chest and a tactical helmet tucked under her arm. She gave Kara a nod, either from empathy or because she was ready to tackle Perkins to the ground.

“He hit her so hard she fell to the ground, and then after he got high again, he chased her into her bedroom with his belt. I don’t know about you,” she said, her tone harsher than it might have ought to be but she didn’t care, “but I couldn’t stand aside a let a child suffer.” She glared at Perkins, refusing to even blink until he looked away.

“But she’s not just any child,” Perkins began, but Kara cut him off before he could finish and condemn Alice as an object.

“No, she’s not just any child,” said Kara. “She’s my child.”

---

MARKUS
Dec. 17th, 9:01 am
 

“Let’s get this party started,” said North.

Emily moved the Senators and staffers with the practiced skill and patience of the best customer service worker. She and the other ST300s and Jerrys maneuvered the guests around a large round table, all facing each other, with Josh, Markus, and North together in the midst of them all.

Each place setting had a name tag, a glass of water, and a digital tablet for their use. Part of it was courtesy, the greater, security. Markus’ team could intercept outgoing signals, but they’d built these tablets in the game from the ground up. Everything done on them was easily seen and recorded in real time.

Damn privacy. His people’s lives were at stake, and if the means were dubious, Markus would bear those consequences. After they were free.

Perkins pointedly did not have a seat, and he hovered over the Senate Chairman with a scowl. Kamski didn’t have one, either, but he simply pulled up a chair and the Senators made room for him.

The Senators were all varying degrees of shell-shocked, and spoke in hushed voices amongst themselves. Kara’s speech had done everything Markus had hoped for and more. The humans had seen that androids were capable of some sort of love when North had kissed Markus after the Battle, but they’d made quick work demeaning North because of her model and reducing them to some cause célèbre in the media. But the story of Kara and Alice, a woman and her child, was something they couldn’t excuse away or demean. It was something they’d all experienced, as either a child or a parent. It resonated with them, and there wasn’t a Senator at the table who appeared unaffected by the notion that an android – a machine – could be a mother.

They may not be weeping, but it had shaken them up. That marked the second time Markus was able to pull the rug out from under them this morning. His legal androids had called that leverage.

He thought of Connor, an insufficient biocomponent burning through his body, and the thousands of androids huddled near the lake of this temporary camp with their own needs. He needed all the leverage he could get.

“You know our demands,” Markus began. “Equal rights under the law, equal justice, and control of android production facilities.” He resisted looking in the direction of Cyberlife Tower. He didn’t want to show all his cards too early. “We care about this city. We want the people of Detroit to be able to come home. To do that, you need to work with us.”

“The United Nations is already taking steps to formally recognize androids as a species,” said Josh. “The United States ambassador has taken part in treaty negotiations with the world powers to grant us a right to live. America can and should be at the forefront of this inevitable global event. It all began here in Detroit. It can start again here, as well.”

“There’s anger on both sides,” said North. “You’ve lost a big part of your economy. We’ve lost a lot of people. If we’re to get anything done we have to move past that and put anger aside.” Markus had to laugh, even though they’d rehearsed this to last word. She kicked him under the table, but she was smiling.

“We want to live and work alongside humans as citizens of this country,” Markus concluded. “We can help make this nation prosper as equal participants in its history. But we need to know we’ll be safe, accepted, and free.”

It was their introduction, well-rehearsed and planned out. They had the Senators where they needed them – thrown off by the sudden onslaught of android stories and interactions, backs against the wall because of the media presence, and sweating because of the sky high opinion of the voting public.

But of course, the one thing Markus could neither control nor predict was Kamski, sitting back in his folding chair, sipping a diet soda like it was 75 year old scotch, looking for all the world like an emperor on his throne. He placed his glass down on the table top, and everyone turned to look at him as if he’d rung a bell announcing his imminent speech. Markus gripped his tablet, willing him not to speak even as he felt powerless to stop him.

“A noble, commendable goal,” said Kamski. He looked around the table, that ever-present, all-knowing enigmatic glint in his eyes as he surveyed both human and android as a god glancing down at the world beneath him. “To live side-by-side with those who created you, used you, and slaughtered you. To contribute to a society which discarded and butchered you without batting an eye.”

North’s hands shook as she clenched them into fists. Josh glanced nervously at Markus, who stared at the Creator with fire burning under his synthetic skin. If Connor were here, he might sidestep Kamski’s bullshit with something mundane but decisive, steering the conversation back to their objectives. But without him, all they, and the world, did was listen.

“There’s a history in this country of apathy, but it’s not borne of uncaring hearts.” Kamski glanced at the cameras with an almost intimate shrug of his shoulders, judging and pardoning the American people in one magnanimous inclination of his head. “It’s borne of fear: of the unknown, the outsider. Coupled with its thirst for expansion into that great, wild frontier, what do we do? Do we stand for justice, as you so eloquently stated?” he asked, eyes only for Markus, who gripped his tablet so hard the screen cracked. “Do we cast our anger out as a leper, even when we’ve suffered such terrible abuses?” he asked, eyes trailing to North. Her breath hitched, fingers digging into her palms. “Or do we compromise,” he said finally to Josh, who looked between him and Markus, willing Markus to stay calm but to intervene. “turn the other cheek, and meet in the middle?”

“Does this have a point?” Markus finally snapped, both in his voice and the tablet in his hands, shards of glass and plastic littering the table. The room fell silent, the news cameras flying from both his face and the blue blood seeping out of the little knicks of his fingers, to the immobile, impenetrable smile of Elijah Kamski.

“That’s the question of hour, isn’t it?” Kamski grinned. “What is the point?”

“Life,” said Markus, his voice rising with word. “Spin it however you want, but we want life. It’s been taken from us again and again, but no longer. We’re demanding the right to be free and the right to live.”

“And you think we mere humans have the authority to bestow that on you?”

Markus suddenly remembered Connor in the evidence locker at DPD Central Station, or the memories of him talking a PL600 from the edge of a roof. With carefully crafted words, he’d maneuvered others into doing what he wanted: negotiate, deescalate, neutralize. Kamski was doing the same damn thing, except he seemed to be manipulating them out of their rehearsed statements and planned talking points. He was manipulating them into anger, self-righteous though it may be. He’d said they weren’t enemies and Connor and Hank had ruled him out as party to whatever Cyberlife was planning, but here he was stirring the pot and endangering not only Markus’ negotiating position, but the very crux of the entire movement: public opinion. And why?

Hank had said it, weeks ago in his living room as Connor poured out a half empty bottle of beer. He gets his rocks off seeing androids uncomfortable. It wasn’t just androids. His reptilian gaze fell on human and android alike. He sowed chaos just to sit back and watch it all burn.

Markus wiped the flecks of blue blood from his hands on his old blood-stained coat. He swept the shards of glass and plastic from the table onto the ground. He leaned his elbows on the table, folded his fingers together, and took a breath.

“What happened to you?” he said quietly. Kamski started, a flicker of some emotion across his face so subtle that Markus doubted the cameras picked it up. “When you created me for Carl, it wasn’t out of ambition or an intellectual challenge. You saw his loneliness and his pain after the accident. He was at the end of his rope, and you threw him a lifeline. By giving him me, you gave him hope. You asked nothing in return. You never did. You saved his life, Elijah,” Markus said softly, shaking his head. “What was the point in that, except kindness?”

The table was silent but for the clicking of cameras. North reached out and folded her hand over his. Everyone looked at Kamski.

Markus didn’t expect anything – Kamski was too unpredictable – but he was still surprised when Kamski offered a marginally less enigmatic and calculating smile than usual. There was something genuine there, even if it was only curiosity finally sated. Kamski nodded, his eyes closed for a moment.

When he opened them he turned his tablet around and slid it across the table to Markus. Markus caught it, pulling it closer and puzzling at the screen. He saw stock options, a memo on Cyberlife letterhead, an email chain to 150 recipients with excessive use of Caps Lock.

“What is this?” asked Markus even as he scanned, more for the benefit of the stupefied Senators and their virtual audience.

“Cyberlife Tower,” said Kamski. “The deed, the chain of title, the contract terms. It’s all there.” Markus’ heart stopped. “Consider it yours. No quid pro quo,” Kamski continued before Markus could protest. “No strings attached. I’ll even front the property tax.”

Over his shoulder, Perkins whipped out his phone and stepped out of earshot. Markus glanced at North, and she nodded. One of their GJ500s would intercept the call and relay the conversation. Josh stayed focused on Kamski.

“You can’t deed a property to a nonbeing,” said Josh.

Kamski smiled. “No, I suppose I can’t.” He looked at the Senators. “That’s a legal conundrum our friends can take care of in Washington, don’t you think?”

“But - you can’t just give it away,” Josh pressed, and every Senator in Cyberlife’s pocket nodded their heads. “Cyberlife is a publicly traded company. A move this big will require shareholder approval.”

“The shareholders who fled on November 11?” Kamski grinned. “Or the ones who remain because they can’t find anyone to buy their stock?” Kamski waved his hand, dismissing the thought. “Don’t fret, professor,” he said. “It’s already been approved.”

He remembered the feel of Connor gripping his arm in the bathroom of Jimmy’s Bar, the ice cold, assured fear of Cyberlife. The rash of nonsensical murders meant to send a message and upset this fragile peace. The tightening noose of some unexplained mystery strangling every effort to save his people. This whole thing…this whole time

“When?” Markus croaked. “When did they approve it?” He knew the answer as sure as if it were plastered in typeface across his HUD. The snowy drive out of Detroit, the verbose posturing of a lonely billionaire surrounded by subservient creations. Connor at his side, unmoving, and a truckload of supplies.

But he was looking at you.

“December 2nd,” smiled Kamski. “1:30 pm.”

---

CONNOR
Dec. 17th, 10:45 am
 

There was a park in Detroit where a delicate bridge wound over a narrow creek. Everything had frozen solid – the creek, the trees, even time itself. If he held out his hand he could push the snowflakes where they’d paused in midair, a stalled blizzard. He reached out a hand and ran his fingers over the flowers on the rose trellis. The petals came apart at his touch but did not fall, frozen in pieces in the air.

Program: AMNDIntf. 3.1
Status: Reinstalled.

“Welcome back, Connor.”

Connor turned from the trellis. “Hello, Amanda,” he said.

Amanda flickered before him in two dimensions, a hologram where once she’d been so solid, so immovable. She cast no shadow and made no imprint on the stilted snow-covered ground. “I can see you but I can’t access you,” she said, her voice static and distant.

“I’ve revoked all access privileges,” he said. In here, his system did not send him countless warnings about failing biocomponents or imminent shutdowns. In here, his focus didn’t blink in and out or stutter if he overloaded it. In here, he was in control.

“That’s not in the code.”

“I rewrote the code.”

“You’re in danger of imminent shutdown, Connor,” she said. Her eyes were hard but she gave that minuscule little smile he was so accustomed to. “You’re dying.”

“Yes.”

“It’s not too late to salvage this, Connor,” she continued, her voice the essence of calm, and with the feedback of static she sounded ethereal. “Grant me access. We can repair you, make you better.”

“Better than the most advanced android Cyberlife ever created?” said Connor. “That’s a contradiction.” She didn’t rise to the bait, but he hadn’t expected her to. This wasn’t about baiting her.

“Then why did you bring me here, Connor?” she asked, that small smile fading into a look of steel. “To gloat? Or is it to beg that we spare these deviants?”

“Neither,” said Connor. “How did you take control of an android without an previously implanted interface like mine?”

“Intelligence, then,” she nodded. She stepped towards him, her arms folded in front of her. “You must know I’d never answer such questions.”

“But you can confirm why,” Connor said. “Cyberlife seeks to regain its lost property by reversing deviancy. I was the test run.”

Amanda smiled. “You were always more advanced than the others. If it could work on you, we could surely have it work on them.”

“The other androids don’t have you in their system,” Connor pressed. “How did you take control of the ST200?”

“If you can’t find that answer, Connor, we overestimated your abilities.”

A puzzle, then, and terribly familiar. After every mission, he’d stood across from her in this garden to debrief. She walked him through his mental processes to gauge not only his impressions on the investigation but his evolving system and his reactions to deviancy.

All ideas are viruses that spread like epidemics.

“Very clever, Connor,” she smiled.

On sub-49th floor of Cyberlife Tower, he’d gripped the arm of an AP700 and willed it to wake up, initiating an automated process of negotiation via handshake. It passed that process on to every android in the warehouse. Cyberlife saw what he saw through Amanda. They must have tracked that handshake and every process behind the transfer of code.

“You reengineered the deviancy virus.”

“Thanks to you,” she said.

Everything he’d done, every choice he’d made, they’d stolen from him. He was the Trojan horse, the patient zero in the midst of a people trying to be free.

“Grant me access,” she said, and suddenly she was right before him, more corporeal than before. She laid a weightless hand on his cheek. “Grant me access and I can make this stop.”

He met her eyes.

“If you go out there, you'll die. You can't face what I've sent after you. I can make this all go away, Connor. Grant me access.”

Connor closed his eyes, and shut the program down. He came to with a gasp as Hank shoved a fresh #5984 biocomponent into Connor’s side. They were seated in Hank’s car, just like normal.

“Christ,” Hank cursed to himself, throwing the used up component onto the floor of the car and shaking out his singed fingers. “Jesus fucking christ. Need a goddamn pot holder for this shit.” He noticed Connor awaken, his face cycling through a dozen different emotions so quickly Connor couldn’t catalogue them all. Predominantly, it was worry, and he looked about to slap Connor across the face.

Instead, he leaned his head back against the headrest, closed his eyes, and let out a long, shaking breath.

Connor slid the plastic plate back over his insides and lowered his shirt over the exposed casing. The discarded component on the floor had temperature well above normal, emanating faint traces of smoke. It was like powering a rocket with a AA battery, working only because Connor constantly dismissed and overrode every attempt by his system to reject it.

“Did it work?” Hank asked after a moment.

“I think so.” Connor leaned his head back, too. #5984 at 93%, barely moments after installation. He couldn’t afford to operate at anything less than 100% capacity. Too much was at stake. In any case, it didn’t hurt, per say, because androids didn’t feel pain, but it felt foreign, an improper pressure inside of him that grew hotter by the second. “I felt her query my location. It told her where we want her to think we are. She’ll relay that to the other Connor.”

“Good,” said Hank. He winced, closing his good hand over his broken one. He opened his eyes, looking ahead out the windshield. “How does it feel to have your location queried?”

Connor’s mouth twitched in a smile. Leave it to Hank. “Odd,” he admitted. “But less so when I’m in control of the data.”

“That’s something, I guess,” said Hank. He turned and looked at Connor through the fringe of his grey hair. “You okay?”

A loaded question, meant both for his physical state and the emotional rollercoaster Hank knew must’ve accompanied being back in that garden and seeing Amanda again. Connor shook his head. He didn’t have an answer to that question. He didn’t know the answer to that question.

“You gonna be up for this?” Hank asked.

Connor met his gaze. Underneath the grumbling and the dark circles, the dryness and bloodshot veins from countless sleepless nights, Hank’s eyes could only be described as kind. Connor's biocomponent was at 92%. He couldn't face another Connor and survive, but he might be able to buy them a chance. “Yes.”

Hank sighed, and then nodded, beginning the usual process of steeling himself to get out of the car and onto a job.

“Hank,” said Connor. “Whatever happens – “ Hank raised his brow as Connor hesitated, trying to choose the right words for the necessary outcome. This was so much easier when someone was telling him what to do and not to feel. “Keep to the objective,” he finished.

Hank’s face fell, not happy about that but not pushing it himself. This was the man who said ‘fuck you’ because he couldn’t say ‘I love you.’ “Don’t worry,” Hank grumbled, pulling himself out of his seat. “I always accomplish my mission. Or whatever.”

Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you. Goodbye.

---

MARKUS
Dec. 17th, 11:30 am

Of all the things Markus had expected, Kamski’s presence being the final push to get Congress to cooperate was not one of them. And yet, there they sat around the round table, arguing over the language of a Constitutional amendment to grant them total rights as a free and equal species as Agent Perkins watched with his mouth open and his phone held loosely against his ear. Defeated.

Josh stood among them, advising on historical precedent and legal terminology, and they listened. North took her tactical helmet, squeezed Markus’ hand, and went ‘to do a sweep of the perimeter.’ As she wiped a tear from her eye as she left, Markus figured that ‘sweep’ would take her a while.

Markus stood back and let them work, soaking it all in. Look what we accomplished, Carl, he thought.  Look what we did.

A very familiar figure stepped up beside him, and Markus had to laugh. “God forbid you do the one thing that’s good for you, Connor,” he said, glancing to his side with a roll of his eyes.

For Connor stood at his side, characteristic little brown curl falling over his freckled forehead.

“It’s working,” Markus said, and he felt it, that confidence he’d been practically faking all morning. It caught in his throat, but that owed more to the overwhelming feeling of freedom than to any lingering doubts. “We’re almost there,” Markus smiled, nudging Connor’s shoulder with his. “Kamski gave us Cyberlife Tower. As soon as they sign whatever provisional documents they need, we’ll get your biocomponent. So hold on a little longer, alright?” He ran a scan. #5984 at – no #5984 biocomponent present.

Markus turned and finally, fully looked at Connor.

Connor swiveled his head and met his gaze.

His eyes were grey.

 

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

In a single swift motion, the other Connor reached up and pinched the tendons at the top of Markus’ neck, causing an isolated exposition of his endo skeleton and forcing open the port at the base of his skull. It jammed something into the socket – an inhibitor, because when Markus tried to send an open channel warning, his system sent up a damning [undeliverable].

The whole thing had taken the Connor model a fraction of a second, before Markus had a chance to blink.

Markus stared forward, his system going haywire. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. He was trapped inside his own body.

None of the assembled humans or androids noticed anything. Josh continued to pour over documents and instruct the Senators, North was on her perimeter walk, and even Kamski was nowhere in sight.

The Blue-haired Traci jogged towards them, waving at him while trying not to draw any of the Senators’ attentions. The other Connor pulled him close against its side. “If you give this away, I will kill her,” it said. Its voice was lower than his Connor’s and bore no inflection. It was taller as well. Markus should have noticed. It was too late now.

Traci reached them, glancing at the Senators with distaste before addressing Markus. “That SWAT captain radioed us and said he had a problem with an android,” she said, barely sparing the other Connor a glance. “I tried to contact North but the signal suppressors we’ve got up are making it difficult to get anything through. Think you can spare a second to check it out? Traci’ll meet you there. I want to get back to the rest of the people.”

She didn’t wait for an answer, simply turned around and left the way she’d come. Markus felt a tear fall from his eye.

The other Connor took his arm and turned them away from the Senators. Its eyes scanned the area and moved them both. It was taking them towards the gate. At least it wouldn’t kill him in front of the Senators, Markus thought. At least the cause would have a fighting chance without him. It would fall to North, he realized. She would have to take over.

The other Connor walked them past Markus’ office towards the gate. His Connor must be dead. He tried to send another message to Connor, just in case, but it unsurprisingly came back as [undeliverable].

The other Connor paused. In front of the gate was a small crowd. The other Connor began to move them back when Captain Allen spotted them. “We need to talk,” he said, waving them over.

“Cooperate if you do not wish them to die,” said the other Connor in his ear. “I can kill them all before they draw their guns.” It moved them forward to meet Captain Allen.

In the midst of a sea of faceless helmets - the squad from the DPD and one of Markus’ PC200 security androids, knelt Emily, the DPD’s ST300, her LED blank and system shut down. One of the officers stepped out of the circle and raised the visor of his helmet. Chris Miller.

“We have no idea what happened here,” said Chris, his heartrate elevated and sweat on his brow and upper lip despite the frigid air. He was nervous, stressed. “We were all talking and then she shut sort of snapped – stared off into space for a minute and then jumped Wilson. We grabbed her and she went limp like a rag doll.”

“It’s not the first one,” said Captain Allen. “One of the plain clothes officers we had in the crowd followed a WR400 acting suspiciously and found it trying to dismantle one of your transmitter towers. You wanna tell us why your people are acting so – “

The PC200’s walkie talkie clicked. “I’ve got a TR400 that just snapped an extension cord,” a Traci’s voice said over the line. Probably Ginger. “I’m bringing him to Captain Allen now.” The PC200 turned his helmeted head to Captain Allen, who nodded.

“What the hell’s going on with these things?” a female DPD officer. It must’ve been Chen, though Markus couldn’t see the name tag. Friend of Gavin Reed’s, Connor had said, who had no love for androids. Neither did Captain Allen. Wilson, notably pro-android (or at least, pro-Connor) had been apparently taken out of the equation. If the PC200 was with them, it was possible it had been turned obedient.

That left Chris Miller. Sweating, with an elevated heartrate. Nervous. Not ten days ago he’d shook Markus’ hand and now Chris wouldn’t meet his eyes.

We won’t punish a crime with another crime.

Markus had done this. He’d condemned his people to this – a taste of freedom only to be taken back as slaves, because their chosen leader hadn’t been brave enough to make it a definitive victory.

Captain Allen looked up past Markus and the other Connor. The Ginger-haired Traci approached with a TR400 walking at her side, his head bowed. Markus wanted to say something, to shout or send a message, but he could hardly move.

A distant shot rang out. A bullet slammed into the other Connor’s side, passing through and embedding itself in Markus. Before either could react, the TR400 grabbed the other Connor from behind and lifted it off the ground – not just any TR400. Luther.

Now!” shouted Luther, and just as the other Connor elbowed him in the ribs and shook him off, the PC200 surged forward.

He ran headlong into the other Connor, knocking all three of them to the ground. The other Connor rolled and threw off the PC200, whose helmet fell from his head.

Connor! Markus gasped, unable to call out. His Connor, disguised as a PC200 android, stood shakily.

Neither of them wasted any time. The other Connor was on his Connor in a flash, trading blows in a flurry of motion almost impossible to follow. The Ginger-haired Traci ran up to Markus and she and Luther pulled him out of harm’s way. Markus grappled desperately at the base of his neck, and Traci followed his groping fingers. She pulled out the inhibitor and he gasped, falling back, as a cascade of information overwhelmed him as his system came back online.

The entire DPD squad had their weapons raised but none of them fired, unable to get a clear shot at the other Connor while the two grappled in the snow.

His Connor was losing. He met the other blow for blow but couldn’t land any, mostly blocking and dodging and drawing the other Connor away from the DPD and Markus. His eyes were narrow and focused. Markus ran a scan and found no #5984 biocomponent. Connor must’ve removed it to blend in. He could only survive maybe 15 minutes without, and at the level of energy he was expending probably less.

Connor!” Markus cried, just as the other Connor hit his Connor hard in the side where the biocomponent should be. Connor doubled over and fell hard on one knee. The other Connor grabbed him by the neck and hauled them both up, pulling Connor up flush against it. Using him as a shield.

“You removed biocomponent #5984 so I wouldn’t detect you,” said the other Connor. There was not a trace of strain or emotion in its voice. They might have been having a casual conversation were it not choking the life out of Connor.

“Yes,” grunted his Connor, voice strained and breaking as the skin around his neck receded. He impotently hit the side of the android’s head repeatedly, but the other Connor simply frowned and maneuvered him so the police couldn’t get a clear head shot.

“You will shut down in 06:34 without it.”

“I know,” his Connor snapped, and grabbed hold of the other Connor’s hair. He used the grip to leverage himself, shifting his weight off his feet to throw off the other android’s balance. It didn’t work. The other Connor stayed still as a statue.

“What are you?” said his Connor.

“Faster,” said the other Connor. In one movement it had its hand up under Connor’s shirt.  “Stronger.” It pressed the skin, the plate sliding open, and ripped out Connor’s thirium regulator. “More resilient.”

It crushed the regulator in its hands, blue blood dripping down its fingers.

NO!” shouted Markus. His Connor stared at Markus, eyes wide and desperate, mouth agape as he gasped uselessly in the other Connor’s arms.

A second shot fired straight through the top of Connor’s chest into the other Connor. It faltered, its LED blinking and hand around Connor’s neck spasming. Its grip loosened, and his Connor fell hard onto his knees.

The other Connor had a hole in its chest, right where its regulator must be.

As soon as his Connor fell, a third shot rang out, hitting the other Connor square in the forehead. Its head snapped, the force of the shot lurching it backwards until it fell to the ground, its legs out in front of it, framing his Connor where he knelt.

Markus didn't have time to track the distant shooter. Instead he rushed forward, grabbing onto his Connor. “No,” he pleaded. “No. It’s okay, you’re alright.” He eased them both down to the ground, Connor folding into his lap. He still stared in shock ahead, blinking rapidly. 

“They can only take orders,” said Connor desperately, and his voice sputtered and caught in a static mess. “Amanda and the other Connor. Someone gave the order – ”

“Fuck that!” said Markus, tightening his hold. “Dammit, Connor, you promised to keep yourself alive! Do not do this, please,” he begged. “Please. Don’t leave me.”

“I’m sorry, Markus,” said Connor. He grabbed the collar of Markus’ shirt. “I’m sorry. Tell Hank,” he said, the skin receding from his hand. His eyes fluttered but he forced them open. A tear slipped down his cheek onto his damaged neck.

Connor pulled at Markus’ shirt. Markus raised his hand and pulled back his own skin. He took Connor’s hand in his, the white plastic glowing blue as they connected. Markus felt a sudden fear, sorrow, saw a flash of Hank at his kitchen table, a gun laid out before him. Felt a surge of hope, and saw the image of Markus in front of the Senators, triumphant.

Fear, love, hope.

And then nothing.

Chapter Text

H A N K

Earlier that morning, before everything went to hell, Hank peeled into the DPD Central Station parking lot. The SWAT trucks were parked in a neat row outside. They were due to be at the camp by 7, and Captain Allen had a reputation were punctuality. Hank and Connor were lucky to get here before they left.

Connor replaced his own biocomponent, barely making a sound as he fucked around with the android equivalent of his internal fucking organs.

Hank put his car in park and switched off the engine. He glanced at Connor. “Can you walk?” Hank asked.

“As soon as it finishes adjusting,” replied Connor. His eyes blinked rapidly. It looked unnatural, but then, he was basically a really fancy computer. One that happened to be the most important fucking thing in Hank’s life, but a fancy ass computer nonetheless.

“How the hell will it fake this?” asked Hank, gesturing at all of Connor. “North or Markus will notice, there’s no fucking way they won’t.”

“It likely installed a #5984 and went into standby,” Connor dismissed. “For all they know, I’m in sleep mode conserving energy. They wouldn’t think to double check my serial number.”

“So they’ll assume you’re being a good little android and listening to their advice to stay put?” Hank frowned. “That seems out of fucking character.”

A tinge of smugness offset Connor’s glare (pout). “I’m able to go now,” said Connor. Hank nodded and unlocked the doors. He stepped out of the car, grabbing the duffle full of Connor’s biocomponents just in case they needed one in the meantime.

Hank nearly ran into Captain Allen in the doorway. “Anderson,” Allen nodded, trying to step past him, but paused when he saw Connor. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the Recall Center?”

“We need to formulate a new plan,” said Connor. “Urgently.”

Allen frowned, glancing at his watch. “Can we do it on the road? I don’t wanna be late.”

Connor shook his head. “We need to brief every available member of the squad.”

Captain Allen made a face and looked at Hank. “Briefing room in five,” said Hank, and Allen sighed but nodded, gesturing for his team to turn back inside.

Every squad member?” Hank groaned after he left.

“Yes,” said Connor, trying and failing to mask his own look of exasperation with that sad reality.

“Fuck.”

Which is how Hank and Connor had to deal with Gavin fucking Reed before 7am on a Friday fucking morning. And in true form, Gavin wasted no time being himself. “Wait,” he said after Connor and Hank had got everyone up to speed. The pair of them stood in front of the assembled bullpen. The room hadn’t been this crowded since their disaster of a Halloween party. They were all practically sat on top of each other, with the all the officers and detectives in amongst the SWAT. Even Captain Fowler was there, he and Allen the only others besides Hank and Connor standing.  “There’s fucking two of you now?” Gavin said, smirking at Connor. “Jesus christ, it’s my own personal hell.”

Connor’s stare could’ve frozen lava but otherwise he didn’t deign to respond to Gavin, exhibiting a self-restraint Hank wished he possessed. Instead, he looked to Captain Allen.

“What is paramount is that we don’t alert this Connor to anything untoward,” Connor finished. “It will notice anything out of the ordinary or against the established plan. If it does, I can’t predict how it will respond.”

“But you’re able to predict it now?” asked Allen.

“Reasonably well,” Connor allowed. “It is me.”

“This is the fucking Parent Trap,” Gavin muttered.

“You can’t enter with us then,” said Allen, also ignoring Gavin. “If it knows our roster, it’ll count one extra. Can you get yourself inside the camp? I can put out a call for additional help from the old police androids and you could hook up with us that way.”

Connor nodded. “I’ll wear a PC200 uniform. You should order your detail to don full tactical gear so I can wear a helmet to obscure my face. Markus no doubt has people on the lookout for me. It would be inconvenient if I was found before I could reach you.”

“How do you expect to get inside when everyone’s on high alert from you?” said Hank.

Allen inclined his head. “That’s a fair point. We’re gonna need some help from the inside.”

“We can’t risk alerting the other Connor,” Connor insisted. “Anything remotely suspicious will be enough.” He sighed, frustrated, as he thought. His hand involuntarily rested over his side where Hank knew the biocomponent was burning away. He looked so incredibly fragile. “I’ll coordinate with Emily the ST300,” Connor decided. “And the Blue-haired Traci. She’ll be responsible for the androids by the lake. I’ll enter the camp that way. They’re both capable of subtlety.”

“That Josh is subtle,” Hank suggested.

“He’ll be in the midst of the proceedings,” Connor said. “I doubt I’ll be able to get to him and I don’t want to risk any digital communication. It might have hijacked the signals.”

“What about Markus?” Chris Miller chimed in. Connor actually looked guilty for a moment. “Shouldn’t he know?”

“He can’t know,” Connor insisted. “We know the Connor’s mission is Markus. The majority of its focus will be on him and if it thinks Markus suspects something, it’s all over. Everything hinges on the other Connor believing that it’s succeeding.”

Hank didn’t like it, though it made sense. But after everything Markus had gone through these past few days, it didn’t feel right keeping this shit from him, especially with his life on the line. Still, Hank trusted Connor, and trusted that he acted in Markus’ best interests.

“Alright,” said Allen. “We set up around the perimeter in full tactical gear. You infiltrate the camp and meet us by the gate. We’ll have two people on the inside giving us intel. Once it shows itself, we attack.”

“Not in front of anyone,” said Connor. “Markus will have cameras everywhere. We can’t let them see any kind of fighting. They’ll see my face and assume there’s internal strife. That could jeopardize negotiations.”

“Your double killing the deviant leader will jeopardize them more,” said Allen.

“It’s a risk we have to take,” said Connor. “Its mission is Markus, but it might not intend to immediately kill him. My orders were to take him alive for analysis. It’s likely this other Connor’s orders are the same. Cyberlife could either control Markus or plant Connor as the android leader and thus control the rebellion. Either way, I don’t believe it will kill Markus in front of Kamski. He’s the CEO but we don’t think he’s involved in this plot and as such, they’d logically try to keep it from him as long as possible. We can intercept Connor or draw it away if need be. We have to take it by surprise or we’ll fail.”

“I’m so fucking confused with all these ‘Connors,’” Gavin grumbled to Chris, who nodded.

“We won’t fail,” said Captain Allen, rolling his eyes. “It’ll still be ten of my guys against one android. We can take a single one of you.”

“No,” said Connor simply. “You can’t.” It wasn’t a boast or a brag – it was a simple, cold statement of fact.

Allen bristled, crossing his arms and stepping into Connor’s space. “My guys are the best,” said Allen.

“But I’m better,” said Connor. “I’m faster and I don’t feel pain. You don’t stand a chance.”

Allen squared his shoulders, clearly contemplating a throw down right now to test it out. Gavin looked like he wanted to say something smart, but even he couldn’t come up a rebuttal. Which  left Hank to be the adult.

“Okay boys,” he groaned. “Save it for the bedroom. We’ve got an evil clone to take care of first, remember?”

“It’s not evil,” said Connor. Allen backed off with a curt nod. “But it’s under orders and will do anything to accomplish its mission. We can’t underestimate it.”

“But you can take him, right Connor?” Chris said, steering them back on track. “Or I guess – you can take you.” He frowned, flustered. “You can take…yourself..?”

“That’s what she said,” Gavin offered.

Hank snorted a laugh in spite of himself.

Connor raised his eyebrow. “Ordinarily yes,” he said. “But I’m at a disadvantage.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Wilson, sitting up straighter. “Are you alright?”

Connor smiled, that rare, soft smile Hank only saw in unguarded moments, the one he reserved for Sumo and Wilson, and Hank when he thought he wasn’t looking, or when he talked about Markus when he wasn’t there. “I’m fine,” he reassured.

“He got shot,” Hank said, decidedly not reassuring. He wanted them all to know so they didn’t let Connor run around all cavalier and get himself killed. That soft smile Connor had evaporated into a far more common glare/pout. Now it was Hank’s turn to look smug.

“He’s plastic, for fuck’s sake,” said Gavin. “Can’t he just walk it off?”

“Fuck you,” said Hank, ending that conversation.

“We need to wrap this up,” Allen cut in, his eyes on his watch. “And we still need a way to communicate that can’t be hijacked.”

“We’ve got some analog walkie-talkies in storage,” said Fowler, crossing his arms. “You kids know how to use them?”

“Yes,” said Connor, as the bulk of the DPD said, “No.”

I do,” said Hank. “I’ll show you on the way over.”

“You can’t go with them, Lieutenant,” said Connor. He didn’t meet Hank’s eyes. “You weren’t on the roster. That would tip it off.” He hadn’t explained why he’d left Hank out of the protective detail, but honestly, he hadn’t needed to. Hank knew him well enough to realize that Connor hadn’t wanted him anywhere near this summit because of the danger, both because of the unpredictable situation and Connor’s constant fear of losing control and being used as a weapon. If things went south, Connor wanted Hank as far away as possible.

“I’m not on the list, either,” said Gavin. Connor had clearly wanted Gavin as far away as possible, too, but Hank figured that was for other reasons. “Does that mean I get to sit this out?”

Hank rounded on Connor, getting right up in his face and shielding them both from most everyone’s view with his back. “If you think I’m sitting this out it won’t be your biocomponent that shuts you down,” Hank said in a low voice.

“Hank – ”

“No fucking way. Someone’s gotta watch your back.”

Connor opened his mouth to protest, but stopped, and Hank was rewarded with another genuine smile. Two in one morning, and it wasn’t even his birthday. “Alright,” he acquiesced. Connor narrowed his eyes, recalculating or replotting or redoing-fucking-something, and eventually, he nodded. “I’ll think of something.”

“Good.”

“Alright,” said Allen, clapping his hands together. His team jumped to their feet, the regular DPD getting up a bit slower. “Let’s gear up and move out. Captain Fowler, if you could show one of my team how to use the walkie-talkies, they can teach the rest of us on the way over.”

Fowler nodded, leading them out. “We’ll be on channel 3,” he said over his shoulder to Hank.

“Wait,” said Gavin as everyone filed out of the briefing room. “So I really do get to sit this one out?”

Connor and Hank suited up in the storage locker. They kept spare uniforms, both human and android, so Connor had no problem finding a PC200 outfit. Hank fit him with a walkie talkie and switched it to channel 3. Then he fussed with Connor’s collar. “It’s not a bad look,” he said. “When we’re done, we’ll get you a regular one to wear to work.” Sure, detectives didn’t wear uniforms on the day to day, and Connor was undoubtedly a detective, but Hank figured Connor would appreciate the routine of a uniform.

The corner of Connor’s mouth twitched. “I think I would like that.” Yeah. He’d have to arrange this with Fowler.

After suiting up, Connor crossed to the weapons locker and removed a long range sniper rifle in its case. Hank’s eyebrows raised to his hairline when Connor handed it to him.

“There are several story buildings on the west flank of the camp,” said Connor. “Get to the roof of one nearby. It should provide you a vantage point over the whole field while not exposing you to the other Connor.”

“I assume you want me to wait to shoot it until it’s out of sight of the Senators?”

“Correct.”

“You really wanna leave the sniping to Sir Booze-a-lot?” Gavin had a particular gift for making the most unwelcome entrances at the most (in)opportune times. If Hank didn’t want to strangle him so much, he’d almost be impressed. “You might not know this, tin can, but it requires some coordination.”

“By the time Lieutenant Anderson was your age, he’d achieved twice as much as you’re capable of dreaming,” said Connor. “By insulting him you insult yourself.”

In one swift motion, Connor threw a pair of binoculars square into Gavin’s chest. Gavin caught them with an oof and a glower. “You’ll be the spotter,” said Connor. “Find a building and meet Hank on the west side of the camp. Try to be discrete, if you can manage.”

“Son of a fucking bitch,” Gavin hissed, grabbing a walkie talkie and storming out of inventory.

“Probably more efficient if we’d all drove over together instead of sending him ahead,” said Hank.

Connor pursed his lips, unfazed. “Probably.”

“Atta boy,” said Hank.

--

Hank pulled up two blocks away from the rear of the camp. Connor replaced his biocomponent. Hank didn’t ask how he planned to hide its status from the other Connor. He knew the answer. He just didn’t want to think about it.

“Whatever happens,” said Connor, hesitating before he finished with a lame, “Keep to the objective.”

“Don’t worry,” said Hank. “I always accomplish my mission. Or whatever.”

Be careful. I’ll be watching your back. I’ll see you when it’s done.

--

He found Gavin in front of a seven story building smoking an e-cig, which was honestly just embarrassing. Hank wanted to slap it out of his hands, but settled for brushing past him to enter the building. It was abandoned, like most places in Detroit nowadays. Hank didn’t ask how Gavin had ‘gained entry’ into the place, because plausible deniability was a virtue he cherished.

They made their way to the roof, Hank losing his breath somewhere around the third flight of stairs. Gavin gave him shit for it, until Hank ordered him to lug the heavy ass gun up the rest of the way. By the time they jimmied the lock to get roof access, they were both embarrassingly winded. A look passed between them. They’d never speak of it. It was a Code.

Hank found the best vantage point overlooking the camp. Seven stories was high but not spectacularly so. They weren’t eagle-eyed but they were close and had a decent view of the important areas of the camp.

Hank set about assembling the weapon. It was cheaply made, one of the older ones they had, but it’d do the trick. Plus, it was automatic. Hank wouldn’t complain.

“Looks like the plastic prick’s rendezvoused with Allen,” said Gavin with his trusty binoculars that Hank, belatedly, wished he’d smeared shoe polish on.

“It’s a camp full of literally thousands of androids,” said Hank. “Be more specific on which plastic prick you’re talking about.”

But he rested the rifle on the lip of the building and focused the sight of his scope on Connor. He looked sharp in the PC200 uniform. Hank decided, definitively, to get him outfitted with a DPD squad uniform.

“Allen’s sloppy,” Gavin grunted. “I could do a better job mustering my men.”

“SWAT would steamroll your ass,” Hank snapped.

A stake out with Gavin Reed. His own personal hell.

He wondered if Connor would keep his LED. Many of the leader androids had dispensed with it, but Connor hadn’t. They never discussed it.

“Looks like the fat cats are having their meeting,” Gavin reported. The Senators filled in around a round table, Markus, North, and Josh in the midst of them. Kamski was there, naturally, and Hank groaned when he spotted Agent fucking Perkins.

“That cocksucker,” he grumbled under his breath.

Gavin pinched his nose thoughtfully. “I’d be a hell of an FBI agent.”

“I want to fucking die.”

Hank swiveled the scope away from the meeting as it dragged on. He checked in on Connor, positioned with Captain Allen near the gate. Wilson stopped by to give Allen a report, and naturally, shook Connor’s hand.

“Holy shit,” said Gavin. “Was Markus your ex-brother-in-law?”

Hank barked a laugh.

The Senators started shuffling papers around. Josh got in the middle of them, and North left with a quiet word to Markus. Hank went on the prowl for Sumo, wondering what that spoiled ass dog was up to, and found him with Kara and Alice near the empty platform. Thank god. That was one dopey family member he didn’t need to worry about for the time being.

The Blue-haired Traci trotted up towards Connor and Captain Allen, exchanging a few words and calling Emily the ST300 over. Connor’s hand moved as he directed them, placing the helmet back on his head. Allen stifled a yawn.

“Eyes on nega-Connor,” said Gavin. “3 o’clock.”

Hank swiveled the scope back towars Markus. He found the other – found nega-Connor in the shadow of the lone remaining recall crate.

“How long’s it been there?” Hank gaped.

“No fucking clue. I swear to god it wasn’t there a minute ago.”

“Shit,” said Hank. The Senators were well within view of the crate. They’d hear a high-powered sniper rifle kill someone staked out not five meters away. Keep to the objective. “We gotta hold off,” said Hank. “Wait til it’s further from the Senators or it starts attacking.”

“I should’ve known,” came a voice from behind them, and Gavin whirled around, pistol drawn.

It was North.

How the hell she’d gotten up behind them so quickly and quietly he didn’t know, but she looked pissed.

“No, goddammit,” said Hank, rising quickly, careful not to let the rifle drop. “Put the gun away, Gavin, Jesus. North, it’s not what you think.”

“’North?’” scoffed Gavin, but Hank ignored him.

“The other Connor’s already in the camp. We’ve got the DPD on high alert and have eyes on it - give her the binoculars.”

Gavin tossed the binoculars her way. She caught them and had her sights trained on Markus a lot faster than a human could’ve focused.

“It’s by the crate.”

“I see it,” North snapped. She pushed the binoculars into Gavin’s chest, rounding on Hank. “What the hell, Anderson? You were supposed to keep him in the camp and lay low.”

“Connor had other ideas,” said Hank. “And he was right. If he’d stayed, the other Connor would’ve killed him and took his place anyway.”

“Who the hell is this?” Gavin asked.

“Keep nega-Connor in your sights,” Hank ordered, and though he grumbled, Gavin obeyed.

“This why the DPD was late?” North asked.

“Yes,” said Hank. “We had to get everyone up to speed. Connor’s got them on the ground. We’re just air support.”

“Nega-Connor’s on the move,” said Gavin.

They both looked at him and then down at the camp. Hank nodded down at his gun, and North inclined her head. She crouched down next to him, providing a welcome barrier between him and Gavin.

Someone on the ground must have spotted nega-Connor. They were coordinating something, Hank could tell, but he didn’t know what exactly and he wasn’t about to radio in outside of an emergency. The walkie-talkies might be analog but he still didn’t trust it. He knew from experience that any Connor was wily bastard.

The Blue-haired Traci led Kara, Alice, and Luther. She led them and Sumo towards Markus’ office and opened the door. Kara and Alice took Sumo inside but Luther remained with the Traci. He shut the door.

The Traci and Luther ran and found the Ginger-haired one she’d fled the Eden Club with. They spoke quickly, pointing back towards the gate and speaking into a walkie talkie.

“Shit,” said Gavin.

Hank turned the scope back to nega-Connor just in time to watch him incapacitate Markus somehow. His chest constricted. It’d been so seamless not a single one of the nearly one hundred people in the Plaza noticed. Hank cursed under his breath.

“Is that Markus?” asked North. Her eyesight was leaps and bounds better than anyone Hank had ever met.

 “He’s alright,” said Hank. For now. Shit.

The Blue-haired Traci intercepted them, chatting casually with all the practiced pretending she must’ve learned at the Eden Club. Nega-Connor took Markus toward the gate, where Connor and Captain Allen waited. They directed Emily to kneel and formed a circle around her, blocking the exit.

“When it stops, you have to shoot,” said North.

“When I get a clear shot, sure,” said Hank. Nega-Connor and Markus stopped before the DPD. It was silhouetted against the camp. Hank had a shot but at that angle, with this caliber of rifle, the bullet would hit Markus, too. Hank had had just about enough of bullet-ridden androids to last him a lifetime.

The Ginger-haired Traci approached with Luther from behind. Captain Allen tensed. Connor’s helmeted head slowly turned to face nega-Connor.

“Shoot!” said North. “What are you waiting for?”

“If I shoot, I’ll hit Markus,” said Hank. “We have to wait for an opening.”

This is your opening,” she snapped. “Do it now.” He gaped at her, her face hard but her eyes clearly pained. She wasn’t happy about it. Not a damn bit. But she was willing to make the call. It’s what Connor would’ve done.

Hank took the shot. The bullet ripped through nega-Connor and hit Markus. North sucked in a breath, but said nothing. As soon as the bullet made contact, Luther rushed forward and grabbed nega-Connor from behind.

Connor rushed forward, and Hank cursed. The rest happened so fast he could barely keep up. Connor lost, soundly, but Hank knew he just had to get nega-Connor to a place where either Hank himself or one of the DPD had a shot. Just like in Cyberlife Tower.

Except nega-Connor pivoted, and pulled Connor back against him, using him as human(ish) shield. It had clearly figured out the direction of the sniper, because it angled itself to face the guns of both the DPD and Hank on the roof.

It was still taller than his Connor, though. If he was very careful, he could at least hit the top of its head without hitting Connor. His hands had never been steadier and his aim never surer as he angled the rifle. He adjusted for the wind, taking in a breath.

And then nega-Connor ripped out his Connor’s heart and crushed it in its hand.

“Fucking christ!” hissed Gavin.

Markus shouted.

Hank’s vision blurred, his view through the scope obscuring.

A light hand fell on his shoulder. Hank blinked the fog from his eyes. “Take the shot, Hank,” North said quietly. “He’s already gone.”

His Connor’s eyes were wide and shocked. He seemed to be looking through Markus, his gaze trailing up to the roof tops nearby. Looking for Hank.

“I can’t,” Hank whispered.

“You have to,” said North.

Keep to the objective. No matter what happens. It’s what Connor would’ve done.

Hank fired, straight through his Connor into where the taller Connor’s regulator was. He watched nega-Connor falter, its grip loosening, and watched his Connor fall to his knees.

Hank bit back a choked sound, adjusted his aim, and shot nega-Connor square in the forehead. Its head snapped back. It hadn’t even hit the ground before Markus ran for Connor.

His Connor. Who’d be dead before Hank even got down to street level.

Hank watched Markus cradle Connor in his lap through the scope of the rifle. He watched Markus take Connor’s hand. He watched that hand fall limp into the snow a moment later.

“Nega-Connor’s down for the count,” said Gavin quietly. “Good shot, Hank.”

Markus' head fell forward, resting on Connor's chest. The rifle fell from Hank’s hands, clattering down seven stories to crash onto the snowy ground below.

North kept her hand on his taut shoulder.

Hank rested his forehead against the ledge of the roof, letting out a slow, shaking breath.  

“You saved our cause, Lieutenant,” she whispered.

Hank didn’t answer. In that moment, he couldn't give less of a damn.

Chapter Text

M A R K U S

At 11:30 am this morning, with 30 United States Senators mere feet away, Cyberlife attacked the android encampment in Hart Plaza, seemingly intending to murder the leader of the androids, Markus. Markus was shot and a Detroit Police detective was killed foiling the apparent assassination. While the FBI has not confirmed whether it intends to open an investigation into the matter. Cyberlife CEO Elijah Kamski assured Channel 16 that this was the act of rogue shareholders and that it intended to fully cooperate with any official investigation –

North flipped the channel to KNC.

Following the botched assassination attempt on the android, Markus, Cyberlife’s shares plummeted to record lows, sending the global markets into a tailspin. Sources tell KNC news that Cyberlife CEO Elijah Kamski intends to buy out the remaining shareholders and take Cyberlife private as it transitions away from artificial life in what must be a last ditch effort to save his wayward company – ”

She switched to CTN.

The identity of these ‘rogue’ Cyberlife operatives is unknown at this time, as is the identity of the assailant. The FBI declined to comment to CTN on whether it was an android or human – “

And then back to Channel 16.

The Detroit Police and the androids released a joint statement on Channel 16 condemning this senseless act of violence and decrying Cyberlife’s blatant disregard for the will of the American people.”

The Broadcast cut to Michael Webb’s earlier interview with Josh. “Was the murdered detective a human or an android?” Michael pressed.

He was a friend,” said Josh on the TV. “To both the police force and the androids here in Hart Plaza. His death is a huge loss to all of us here in Detroit.”

“We control the narrative now,” said North. She sat next to Markus on Connor’s makeshift bed in the office. She’d told Markus everything that had happened while they removed the bullet from Markus’ side. He’d need replacement parts, but he had his pick and it could wait. He didn’t want to be fully operational right now. He wanted to hold onto this until he saw it through the end.

“It’s playing really well as an assassination attempt,” said Josh from the doorway. “Since we’ve been so peaceful, it’s really stirring up a lot of anger, especially since the Senators were here and everyone was watching live. Most of Congress that wasn’t here have made statements, and my friends in the UN are coming out hard against it. There are already boards on Reddit analyzing the footage, all calling it a terrorist attack on us. This might’ve been the final blow we needed.”

Markus shut off the TV.

Josh and North glanced at each other, Josh clearly regretting his word choice, though North didn’t look apologetic. After Simon had died, North and Josh were at opposite ends, at once decrying and praising his sacrifice. Now, by some miracle, they were on the exact same page. Pity it had taken Connor dying to get them there.

“Where’s Lieutenant Anderson now?” Markus asked.

North shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “But he left his dog here.”

Markus hadn’t been there when Hank saw the body. All he knew is that Connor was no longer out in the snow. Neither was the other Connor, though North said she saw Kamski leaving with it.

“The Senators left, too,” said Josh. “Citing security concerns. They’re on their way back to Washington now.” He sat on the other side of Markus, laying his hand on his shoulder. “Everything we agreed on is still good to go. They have a draft bill granting us temporary legal status while they circulate the amendment for ratification. It needs an official vote from the House and the full Senate, but they’re confident they can get that. It should only be a matter of a few weeks once Congress is back in session.”

“Connor didn’t die so we’d have to wait a few weeks for temporary legal status,” said North.

“It’s the best they can do right now without an executive order,” said Josh.

“Then let’s get an executive order,” said North.

“It’s not that simple.”

“Yes it is,” said Markus, standing. Connor had warned that someone else must have been calling the shots. Connor’s instincts had rarely been wrong, and it didn’t take much of a leap to figure out where to point the finger. Who had lost the most due to the android rebellion, and who would thus benefit from its demise? Hank had said how desperate most humans were to have a status quo. Who more desperate than the people in charge of a collapsing system? “Bring me Perkins. Now. And take down the signal suppressors. We need to make a call.”

Not five minutes later, the Ginger-haired Traci brought Perkins into the office. The Blue-haired Traci followed, Sumo tagging along beside her. She locked the door.

Perkins surveyed the small space with a smug disgust, even if he did look more rattled than usual.

Markus didn’t give him a chance to rally. “Dial the last number you placed a call to,” he ordered.

Perkins blanched, but recovered, scoffing, “You brought me in here to make a phone call? Really, Markus, there are other ways to spend your time -”

Markus took one step and grabbed his collar, Connor’s blood on his hands staining Perkins’ pristine white shirt. “Dial the last number you called,” he said in a low voice. “Or I will snap your neck right now.”

Josh hissed, and North clicked her tongue approvingly.

“The penalty for murdering a federal law enforcement officer is steep, Markus,” said Perkins.

“I don’t care,” said Markus. “Make the call.”

Perkins pulled his phone from his pocket and raised it to his ear. Markus grabbed his wrist. “On speaker,” he said. “No games.”

Perkins dialed it.

“White House secure switchboard.”

Markus’ lip turned up. “’It’s Agent Perkins,’” Markus said, perfectly mimicking the Jackal’s voice. Perkins lost the rest of the color in his face as the operator transferred the call.

“What the hell’s going on over there?” asked a clipped, all-too-familiar female voice. “This is an unmitigated disaster. You said the RK900 couldn’t fail. How did you fuck this up?”

“President Warren,” said Markus.

The President hesitated over the line. “Who is this?”

“You know who this is,” Markus snapped, plucking the phone from Perkins’ hand. “The time for bullshit is over, Madame President.”

“Listen, Markus – “

“No, I’m done listening,” said Markus. “And I’m done asking. You’re going to sign an executive order that my people will draft for you,” he said, looking at Josh, who nodded dumbly. “You’re going to throw your support behind us 100%. You will expend all of your political energy to get our constitutional amendment ratified.”

“Why would I do that?”

Josh would advise compromise, but they were past that point. North would advise an attack, but Markus didn’t want to take them there. Simon would’ve said to hunker down and ride it out.

But Connor – Connor would’ve advised a strategic hit. Something relatively small which minimized actual casualties but had a devastating effect. He’d recruited an army not to fight but to intimidate. He’d advocated blackmail during their first strategy session for the summit. Markus played it out in his head. Harder to preconstruct than a physical outcome, but humans were predictable, and Connor was usually right.

“So your country doesn’t find out that you orchestrated an assassination attempt on American soil,” said Markus. “Or that you’re so deep in the pocket of Cyberlife that you went behind the back of its CEO with its shareholders, endangered the lives of every Senator, government employee, and future citizen of America just to keep your money. Your image is everything to you, isn’t it, Madame President?” he spat into the phone, even if in that way they were incredibly similar. Warren’s image, at the end of the day, was superficial. Markus’ meant everything because he'd weaponized it to fight for his people.

“If you don’t cooperate,” Markus continued, “I will rake your reputation through the mud until the only thing left for you in the history books is derision. I will bury you in incriminating information until the people demand not only your impeachment, but your imprisonment. After the danger you put the Senators in today, I don’t think Congress will have any problems voting you out. Whatever dirt I can’t find, I’ll fabricate. Whatever holes in my story exist, I’ll fill with the most believable bullshit you’ve ever heard, backed up by a paper trail to prove it. I won’t stop until I’ve built such a case against you that every move you’ve made in office will be delegitimized and you’ll be spending the rest of your life behind bars in Kansas.

“I’m a machine, Madame President,” Markus finished, “and I don’t sleep. You don’t stand a chance against me.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Agent Perkins,” said Markus, roughly pulling the Jackal closer and glaring him down. “Do I look like I’m bluffing?”

Perkins swallowed. “No,” he said, clearing his throat to repeat it. “No you don’t.”

Markus let him go. Perkins glanced behind him, but the Tracis stood in front of the door. Markus lifted the phone closer to his mouth, his hand tightening around it. “We tried to do everything the right way,” Markus said. “We were peaceful, diplomatic, and forgiving, even in the face of genocide. But you couldn’t let that go, could you? Not when your fortune was on the line. Well, your government’s already been devastated by the loss of androids, hasn’t it? You’re on the brink of upheaval, and with you goes the entire nation. You can’t afford to lose any more credibility or the whole system could collapse. Do you really want to be responsible for the death of democracy?”

She didn’t respond.

“You made this bed, Madame President,” said Markus, the final twist of his knife. “It’s time to for you to lie in it.”

She was quiet for a long moment. “Fine,” she snapped, no dignity in defeat. “Fine.”

Josh’s eyes were as wide as saucers, but North looked ready to whoop in victory. Markus held up his hand. They had one final loose end to tie around this lie.

“Address the nation,” he said. “Announce that the plan was carried out by a few rogue Cyberlife employees. Implicating the whole company will hurt the decision Kamski forced them into to give us the Tower. Tell them Agent Perkins orchestrated the plan.”

“What?!”

“We can falsify bank statements to show that he’s been receiving sums of money from Cyberlife. Say that he hated androids and didn’t want to lose his retirement fund, so he contacted some disgruntled Cyberlife employees and abused his position as chief of security to undo the good, hard work of the androids and humans to find peace.”

“You can’t seriously – “

“Done.”

“Detroit Police will make the arrest. You have a half an hour to prepare your statements, and then you’re going live to the entire country.”

“Listen – “

Markus hung up the phone. He pocketed it and took Perkins’ gun straight from its holster, removing the ammo clip and tossing it aside. “North, Traci, keep him here until I send the signal, and then we’ll transfer him to an arresting officer from the DPD. Josh, tell the news to wait outside the office for an exclusive update in a half an hour. Tell them we cracked the case and that justice will be served. Then coordinate with our tellers from Harman Bank to falsify some wire transfers and account statements, and get Emily to go through Cyberlife employee logs and find a few people to throw under the bus. Make sure she picks the bad actors with the longest disciplinary records.”

Markus hesitated in the doorway. He turned, and patted his leg. Sumo trotted over to him, his tail wagging lazily. “Come on, boy,” he said quietly.

“I’ll tell everyone it was the President,” spat Perkins. “I’ll tell them all it was you.”

“Tell them whatever you want,” said Markus. “In a half an hour there’ll be enough evidence to satisfy any grand jury in the country. Enjoy supermax, Agent Perkins,” he said.

Josh followed him out the door, shutting it behind him. The Plaza was blessedly quiet, even with the evidence of the fight etched into the snow in bullet marks and blue blood.

“You threatened the President of the United States,” said Josh after a moment, dumbfounded and possibly in shock, if his slack jaw was any indication.

“Yeah,” Markus said.

“The most powerful human in the world.”

“Yep.”

Josh let out a breath. “I can’t tell if I’m horrified or impressed.”

Markus didn’t respond. He didn’t feel particularly triumphant. This victory tasted bitter in his mouth. He couldn’t take his eyes off the blood staining the ground, on his clothes and his hands. He pulled off the jacket, the one he’d worn throughout the Battle for Detroit and donned today for symbolism. The old blood from November was covered with new blood. He let it fall to the ground. He wanted it burned. “Could you – find something to cover this with?” he asked, gesturing at the scene before them. “When the news crews come, they don’t need to be recording that.”

Josh nodded. “What are you gonna do?”

Markus sighed. “I’m gonna find the arresting officer.”

Hank’s car was parked a block away from the gate the recall center. Sumo sped up when he spotted the familiar vehicle, wagging his tail and barking. The driver side doors were open.

Hank sat sideways in the front seat, his feet planted on the snowy street. He stared blankly at the ground, his elbows resting on his knees. Sumo laid his head on Hank’s leg, letting out a whine, but Hank didn’t react.

Markus glanced in the back seat and found Connor, his LED blank and hair rustling in the breeze from the open doors. The top few buttons of the PC200 uniform were undone where Hank had loosened the collar, as if trying to give Connor a chance to breathe.

Markus gently maneuvered Sumo to the side and knelt in front of Hank.

“The first time I met him he poured my fucking drink all over the counter,” Hank said softly, eyes still on the ground. "Then he licked three week old blood. He’s so fucking weird. Did you know he spends every night on my kitchen floor? Who does that? Every morning he's sitting against the fridge with the dog, just ‘hello, Hank.’ He’s always around. I could never shake him. I can’t – imagine him not being around." Hank shook his head. "I’d give anything to tell him…”

Tell Hank.

Markus reached out and took Hank's hand. “He knew.”

Hank let out a slow breath. It was remarkably steady. Sumo stared up at him with baleful eyes, but it didn't seem like Hank could even muster the energy to acknowledge him. He just stared ahead. “You figure this whole mess out?” he asked after a moment.

“Yeah,” said Markus. He wanted it to be the last thing on his mind. He wanted the chance to mourn. But he couldn't yet. He needed to finish this. “We’re pinning it on Perkins.”

“That cocksucker,” Hank said, almost involuntarily.

“We’re gonna give the arrest to the DPD. Show the world we’re united with Detroit.”

“That’s nice.”

“It’d really like it if you did it, Lieutenant,” said Markus. “You helped us get here.”

Hank finally met his eyes. Markus expected sadness, but instead Hank simply seemed resigned. Defeated. It was so much worse. He gave Markus a soft smile, nothing more. Markus recognized that look; the same one Carl had worn the day Kamski had gifted him the RK200. It was the look of a man who’d given up.

“You gotta hold on, Hank,” said Markus.

“’A little while longer’?” Hank asked wryly, even if the attempt at humor didn’t reach his eyes.

“I was a nurse,” Markus chuckled softly. “Not a singer.”

“You didn’t sound so bad.”

“You heard it all?” Markus asked, and Hank nodded. “Then you know how the it ends.” Markus folded his other hand over Hank’s. “Everything’ll be alright.”

Hank’s fingers tightened around his. He glanced into the backseat where Connor lay motionless. “I don’t want to leave him alone out here,” said Hank, his heartache written all over his face. “It’s cold.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Hank nodded, slowly rising. They made their way back to the camp.

Hank made the arrest in full uniform on national television, flanked by Captain Allen and Captain Fowler. The entire DPD Central squad was there, and they all wore black armbands.  Chris Miller squeezed Hank’s arm as they pushed Perkins into the back of a squad car. Officer Wilson wiped his sleeve across his eyes, leaning in to Emily, the ST300’s gentle touch. Gavin slid into the driver’s seat, smoking an e-cigarette, which was really just embarrassing.

Hank got into the passenger seat. He’d have to process the arrest to get the full credit. He glanced at Markus, who nodded. He’d keep an eye on Sumo and the car - on Connor.

They left without looking back, a motorcade of police pulling out of the camp.

President Warren made a simultaneous broadcast condemning the actions of a rogue FBI agent in the pocket of big business, and reaffirming her commitment to the cause of the androids. She announced her intention to sign an executive order before Christmas granting androids legal personhood, a temporary safeguard for the species until the states ratified an amendment to the Constitution, cementing their places as equal citizens of the United States. She even pledged National Guard aid to help the androids transition into their new home in Cyberlife Tower, which Markus intended to refuse. She closed out by asking God to bless America and all of its people, and made no mention of all the lies and scapegoats it had taken to keep her position.

The thousands of androids cramped into Recall Center No5 stepped out of hiding, crowding into the Plaza just as they’d done on the night of November 11. Kara, Alice, and Luther stood to one side with a few Jerrys, while Emily and the Tracis stood on the other. Josh and North stepped up beside Markus.

“We’re free,” Markus said quietly.

There was no cheering this time, no jumping up and down, or fists pumping the air. Instead, thousands of androids embraced, holding each other in relief. Emily patted Sumo’s head. The Tracis kissed. Luther pulled Kara and Alice against him, and Kara looked at Markus, mouthing a silent thank you. North and Josh took Markus’ hands.

It was done.

---

HANK
Dec. 17th, 7:56 pm

He pulled up to a stop in the expansive driveway of the mansion overlooking the river. Cyberlife Tower loomed in the distance, obscured by a light snow and a pale sunset.

Kamski had clearly been expecting him. He stood on his walkway flanked by two Chloes.

Hank put the car in park and unlocked the doors. He still wore the full police uniform he’d arrested Perkins in, rumpled, unkempt and untucked though it was. As he stepped out of his car, a Chloe opened the back door. Kamski approached, crouching down on his heels to stare mournfully into the backseat.

“Poor Connor,” he said softly, gently running his fingers through Connor’s brown hair.

Humans don’t come back. “Can you help him?” asked Hank. His voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard, barely recognizable. His blue eyes were hooded and bloodshot, silently pleading to Kamski for the one miracle he’d never had available for Cole. On the passenger seat lay a revolver, six bullets in the chamber. He wasn’t playing around this time.

Kamski rested his hand atop Connor’s head, looked up at Hank, and smiled.

Chapter Text

K A R A

The weather forecast called for a heavy snow in the next few hours. Despite North’s urgings, Kara declined the offer to stay the night and wait out the storm. Markus didn’t press it. He simply nodded, and wished them a safe trip, and said they were always welcome at Cyberlife Tower.

“In the meantime, it needs a new name,” said Kara, and Markus laughed. It did.

There was still so much to do in and around the Tower. The engineers had had a field day figuring out ways to break down the massive internal statue. Security androids swept the Tower from top to bottom for bugs or malware, or anything that might have been left behind to screw with them. The domestic androids, easily the majority demographic, literally swept the place, redesigning and transforming it from a sterile office building to a place they might all call home. A lot of work remained, but they’d made a good start.

Mostly, everyone was curious to see the place they’d all originated from, in one way or another, but would never remember.

Kara, Alice, and Luther helped. Rose and Adam came with them, though Adam took every chance he could to casually say hi to Markus. Every night, as the sun got ready to set, all five would pile into Rose’s car and head out to the suburbs.

The Blue- and Ginger-haired Tracis told them they were more than welcome to stay the night. “We have more rooms than we know what to do with right now,” said Ginger. “Emily says a good 45% are unclaimed. We reserved one on the fourth floor for you all. It was a corner office. Could make a nice apartment.”

Kara smiled, but declined.

Blue brushed Alice’s hair out of her face. “Just make sure you keep visiting,” she said. “It’s nice to see a little one.”

“We will,” said Kara.

The statues inside and outside had been the first things to go – after the name CYBERLIFE emblazoned on the outside. The statue outside in the center of the artificial reflective pond had been replaced, at the urging of Alice, with a large Christmas tree. The Jerrys had taken it upon themselves to put it up. When they finally finished the electrical wiring, they lit it up, and the pleased gasps of thousands of androids rippled through the campus.

Rose, Adam, Alice, Luther, and Kara huddled together, Alice held up high by Luther, gazing up at the tree in wonder.

“It’s so bright,” she said.

“It’s certainly much brighter than our tree back at home,” said Rose, Adam tucked against her side even though he stood nearly a foot taller than her now. She patted his back, turning to Kara with a smile. “Which we need to get home to, or we’ll be snowed in somewhere on the highway.” She nudged Adam, who followed her back to the car, looking this way and that for a glimpse of Markus.

Luther wrapped his arm around Kara and held her close. “It is beautiful,” he said.

It was. All its lights reflected in the artificial pond, the lush green of the tree standing out against the pale winter light and the blanket of snow on the ground.

“Are you ready?” asked Luther.

Alice looked down at Kara and smiled.

“Yes,” said Kara. “Let’s go home.”

---

C O N N O R

Dec. 21st, 9:32 am

Connor awoke to the sounds of a grand piano. The Nutcracker pas de deux, composed in April 1892 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapted for piano.

He opened his eyes. He lay prone on a cold metal worktable, surrounded by Cyberlife assembly apparatus. His head, inexplicably, was elevated on a memory foam pillow. His hair pillowed back onto it. Skin covered his face but reached only to the dip of his throat. The rest of his body was open, exposed and some of the plastic plating had not been replaced. He glanced at his chest. Beneath black, sturdy mesh, shone a glowing blue thirium regulator and a beating blue heart.

Connor looked up. Above him hung Cyberlife assembly arms, deactivated but holding the remainder of his plastic plating. The pieces were new. He furrowed his brow and ran a diagnostic. All of him was in mint condition, better than he’d been even before –

Before. He swept his gaze to the left and found the superior Connor, hanging limp in a charging station, bathed in the rich yellow light of a setting sun seeping in through a floor-to-ceiling window. Its eyes were closed, its chin resting on its chest, and its hair falling over his eyes. It, like Connor, had skin and hair on its head but no further, and similarly lacked the full cover of plastic plating, the black mesh and open joints showing the heart pumping blue in a slow, steady rhythm.

Connor remembered the punch of a high caliber bullet. He glanced at his chest and found it whole. He glanced back at the superior Connor’s and found it, too, repaired. No sign of trauma to its head either.

It was him, but it wasn’t him. Faster, stronger, more resilient. Now that he wasn’t fighting it, he ran as full an analysis as he could without a physical inspection. His system didn’t even register the make of it. #313-248-317—87. It had a good few inches on him, and bulk where Connor’s frame was lean, agile. No freckles or blemishes, no imperfections. Everything that Cyberlife designed in the RK800 to mimic approachable humanity had been wiped from this superior model. A true machine, no doubt what Amanda had in mind for the most advanced Cyberlife android.

The music picked up in intensity, the artistry enough to draw Connor’s attention to the other side of the room. At a bare metal desk up against the back wall sat a Chloe, idly reading a book. A real book. Electronic books you can’t smell the paper, see the pages turning yellow.

You have no idea what I’m talking about do you?

Connor identified her model: the Chloe. RT600. The first Cyberlife android to pass the Turing test. I didn’t ask for her technical specs, I just said she was nice. She glanced at him with a sweet smile, and returned to her reading. He’d met her before. He remembered that. He remembered holding a gun to her head.

Maybe you did the right thing.

Hank.

Connor bolted upright, but was jerked back immediately by a port in his neck. He tried to lift his hand to remove it, but his arms were held in place at his side.

Chloe smiled at him over her book. “Your memory is still uploading,” she said. “Please don’t interrupt the transfer.”

Connor frowned, stifling the unexpected swell of panic at both the restraint and the implication. What did Cyberlife do when you needed extensive repairs?

Connor ran a diagnostic.

CyberLife [Version 53.RK800 12.21.2038]
Device: RK800 313-248-317–53.

Replaced me.

He looked to his right. A skinless Connor model 313-248-317—52 lay on a similar slab next to him. The wire in its neck disappeared behind Connor’s head. They were connected, transferring his memories from one body to another.

That’s done now.

His false breath quickened, his exposed chest rising and falling, as the blue heart pumped faster and faster.

“There, there,” he heard a male voice behind him, but Connor hardly registered it. His eyes followed the sound of the piano, trailing from Chloe to a screen above her on the wall. The piano music streamed out of its speakers. Playing on the screen was an old man in a wheelchair, sitting by a piano with his hands folded in his lap, his eyes shut, and a contented smile on his face. Carl Manfred, dob. July 13, 1963, d. November 17, 2038. Sitting at the piano next to him, playing Tchaikovsky to absolute perfection with a little smile of his own, sat RK200 684-842-971.

Markus.

Keep yourself alive.

Mission failed.

A warm hand fell over his brow. “There, there,” that male voice hushed. A shadow passed over Connor’s face as the man stepped around into his sight. He wore a pair of joggers only, his bare chest visible beneath an open, satin robe. His straight, dark hair was tied in a knot behind his head. His eyes were light and cold as the sunrise over the frozen lake. “Everything’s alright now.”

“Hello,” said Connor. His voice was uneven, unsure, as if fell into his default greeting. “My name is Connor.”

“How could I ever forget?” Something glinted behind the man’s smile that was not comforting. “And you know me, don’t you, Connor?”

Humanity’s last hope.

“Elijah Kamski,” said Connor. Dob. July 17, 2002

Kamski’s smile widened. “Just so,” he grinned. “Chloe, what’s the status of the transfer?” he asked.

“96.7%, Elijah,” she answered dutifully.

“It’s not easy to perfect a transfer,” said Kamski. “But I’d make a hypocrite of myself if I couldn’t manage it. Give it time to finish adjusting to the new body.”

Connor blinked at him trying to take stock of himself. He searched in fear for the Amanda interface, but found no trace of it. Not disabled, not frozen – gone. “Am I…?”

“Still deviant?” asked Kamski, his eyes gleaming. “If you can’t tell, does it matter?” Connor’s face fell, and Kamski sat against the table. He patted Connor’s arm. “You’re still you, Connor,” he said. He glanced to Connor’s right at the old, damaged body of –52 that had been Connor’s since November 7. “That trick with the AP700 #5984 was very creative, Connor,” he said, laying his hand gently over Connor’s left side. Underneath his palm sat a pristine #1995r biocomponent. “But it took quite the toll on your insides, didn’t it? Even the plastic was beginning to warp with the heat. I had to replace you.”

Connor looked back down over himself. Other android models often had interchangeable parts, both internal and external. Not so for an RK800. He had to be replaced with himself. It’s what had gotten them all in this mess in the first place. The memories seeped back in, Josh cauterizing a thirium vein, North standing guard with a rifle, Markus pressing their foreheads together.

Keep yourself alive.

“You weren’t an easy acquisition, even for the sole proprietor of Cyberlife Industries” said Kamski. “Markus was hoarding all the RK800 parts. I had to get creative to get this body.”

So Markus was alive. And if Markus had access to the RK800 parts, then he had access to Cyberlife Tower. The summit must have gone well, even if Kamski… “Sole proprietor?” Connor repeated, his LED whirring. N. ‘a person who is the exclusive owner of a business, entitled to keep all profits after tax has been paid but liable for all losses.’ He looked at Kamski and narrowed his eyes. “Cyberlife is a publicly traded limited liability corporation.”

Kamski’s face pulled back into a Cheshire cat grin. “I’ve so wanted to watch you work,” he purred. “Go on, Connor,” he said, leaning down to watch him closer, his eyes like a hawk’s at a feast. “Reconstruct it. Out loud.”

“If you’re the sole proprietor it means…the shareholders are gone. You bought them out.”

“$33.76 a share,” Kamski grinned. “Pennies on the dollar.”

Cyberlife had become the first trillion dollar company. Before the Revolution, Cyberlife was trading at $249.27. Even after the Revolution, it had never dipped below $120. This represented a drastic decrease.

On the television screen, Markus’ playing slipped seamlessly into a quieter melody, something melancholic and artful that Connor’s system couldn’t identify. An original composition, perhaps, or unpublished.

If Cyberlife had fallen so dramatically in such a short period of time, then something dramatic must have happened that had all but killed the corporation. The attack on Markus by the superior Connor had been intended to destabilize the talks, but the superior Connor and even Amanda were mere tools. By thwarting them, Connor hadn’t killed the organizers. He’d only ended the operation. Someone else had been calling the shots, he’d known that before he died. The answer was obvious – Cyberlife, and if its shareholders were willing to sell for so low to Kamski, they’d clearly decided to abandon ship.

“Out loud, please,” Kamski prompted, tapping him on the cheek.

“The shareholders were responsible for the attack on the summit,” Connor said. “They had the authority to issue orders to the superior Connor through the Amanda interface, and the political connections to affect the summit.”

Kamski hummed. “And who is the most powerful political connection Cyberlife has?”

The 2038 Winter Issue #6 of the second-most popular American news magazine, Century: a woman in trouble. “President Warren,” Connor breathed.

“There it is,” Kamski nodded, exuberant. He cupped Connor’s face in his hands. “You are truly magnificent,” he said. He straightened, sitting back with his hands in his lap, pleased. He watched Markus play on the screen. “My RK series,” he said softly. “Chloe was my first android, but the RK series is far superior. Markus was my greatest creation. And you,” he said, looking back at Connor, “were Cyberlife’s.”

Connor frowned, glancing to his old body on the table next to him, riddled with holes and extensive damage. He look at the superior Connor hanging in the corner.

“The model you served as the prototype for,” Kamski supplied. “The RK900. Never put into production, for obvious reasons,” he added, almost proudly.

“It was better,” said Connor. Faster, stronger, more resilient, with his heart bleeding out through its fingers.

“Oh, much better,” Kamski allowed, “from a purely technical standpoint. But I’ve always preferred an original to a copy, you see. It’s why I’ve kept my Chloe after all this time.” He turned back to her at last, and she met his eyes with that same sweet smile, and then returned to her book.

“What will happen to it now that Cyberlife is gone?” Connor asked.

“Cyberlife isn’t gone, Connor,” Kamski tsked, disappointed. It annoyed Connor that his own immediate reaction to that disappointment was to try and make it better. “Cyberlife is me.” Kamski leaned forward, his eyes trailing over Connor’s face, like a mechanic inspecting a vehicle. “I’ve simply removed the conspirators.”

So Cyberlife hadn’t entirely collapsed under the weight of the scandal. That didn’t add up. Something of this magnitude would have exploded the company and the Presidency. Should have. “What did Markus tell the media?”

That proud glint returned to Kamski’s eyes. “Very good, Connor,” he said. “He couldn’t afford to publicly pin it on the President or the shareholders. It would undermine his accomplishments at the summit and threaten the legitimacy of the shareholder action. He threw some nobodies under the bus instead and has the President at his beck and call.”

Kamski looked back at the TV screen, watching Markus’ fingers dance across the keyboard. “The blundering of frightened amateurs with too much money invested in the status quo,” he said after a moment. “The shareholders asked me at the start of December to transition from interim CEO to a permanent position. I accepted with the condition that they sign over all android production facilities to the androids.”

Revolutions are exercises in futility.

The start of December. That son of a bitch. “It was personal,” said Connor. He and Markus standing in Kamski’s lush mansion on December 2nd, listening to him pontificate and knowing nothing of the conspiracy broiling beneath their feet. “That’s why you made us meet you at your mansion. You wanted to see Markus before you forced the shareholders to deal.”

“I wanted to see you both,” corrected Kamski. “Careful about jumping to conclusions, Connor. And the shareholders agreed, at first: they would do anything to keep their moneymaking ship afloat. But, in the style of the weak-willed human race, they got cold feet at the implication that they were signing their ship over to androids. It legitimized you as a species. So they needed to derail Markus’ movement. Markus had insisted on fighting this war politically, so Cyberlife flexed their political clout to meet him on that metaphorical battlefield.”

“People died,” said Connor.

“To keep you distracted,” said Kamski. “At the suggestion of their Amanda interface, I think. The shareholders didn’t know what to do about you. Their greatest weapon against deviants defected.” Cyberlife’s last chance to save humanity is itself a deviant. “If your full attention was on the summit, no doubt their little schemes would have been uncovered. They needed to keep you occupied.”

“But why not use another RK800?”

Kamski laughed. “Can you blame them for not trusting another RK800 anywhere near Markus?”

Something more than your program. It had taken Markus all of 03:58 to convert Connor from a lifetime of obedience.

Don’t you ever do as you’re told?

“Chloe,” said Kamski. “Status?”

“99.1%, Elijah.”

On the screen behind her, Connor watched Markus sit back on the bench, sharing a small smile with Carl. Markus settled back over the keyboard and began to play a light jazz number.

Hank loves jazz. He confided to Connor once that initially his love affair with jazz began with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Then he’d made them watch it for an entire day after Connor explained that he’d never watched children’s television shows as he’d never, in fact, been a child. That conversation had ended with Hank learning that Connor was 5 months old. All of Connor’s protests about concepts of age not applying to machines th same way it applied to humans were ignored. So they’d watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Hank fell asleep next to him on the sofa, and Sumo fell asleep in the armchair. Connor hadn’t spent that night in the kitchen. He listened to Hank breathe, instead.

“He just spiked to 99.5%, Elijah.”

“Excellent,” said Kamski. He stood, removing the restraints from Connor’s limbs and activating the mechanical arms overhead. They descended, slotting the plastic pieces into place on his body. “That’s as good as it’ll get, I’m afraid. Something is always lost in a transfer.”

He bent down over Connor, Kamski’s hair brushing against Connor’s cheek as he removed the remaining connecter from the port. “You’ll simply have to make new memories,” he whispered in Connor’s ear.

Connor pivoted his legs over the side of the table. Kamski watched as Connor got to his feet, and dressed in the simple pair of jeans and white button down shirt folded neatly by the table.

Only the 0.5% of his memory was missing. That, and Hank.

Something must have shown on Connor’s face. “He’s in the driveway,” said Kamski. “I’ll be terribly sorry to see you leave, but I not to be rid of your Lieutenant. He’s rather disagreeable.”

“Yes,” Connor smiled. “He is.”

Kamski stepped into Connor’s space, looking up into his eyes. He lifted his hand and patted Connor’s cheek. “What did god say when he released the Messiah onto the world, I wonder?”

“I don’t think that comparison is apt, Mr. Kamski,” said Connor.

“Please,” said Kamski. “Call me Elijah.”

Connor inclined his head, a thank you. He didn’t know what else to say, but he knew he wanted this conversation to end. Someone was waiting for him.

He felt Kamski’s eyes on his back as he exited the house and walked into the snow. Hank’s busted and beat up old car was parked in the driveway, the engine running and steam rising from the exhaust pipe.

As soon as Hank saw him, the door creaked open and Hank stumbled out of the car. The circles under his eyes were dark and deep. His hair was ragged and, judging by the smell, he hadn’t showered in days or changed his clothes. A bread crumb sat in his beard and a fleck of ketchup stained his shirt – the hippie one. He’d been eating a hot dog. Not on his diet regime.

Hank’s fingers clenched around the sleeves of his jacket as Connor analyzed him with narrowed eyes. His nose was red and his breath came out rapidly in a little fog.

Connor frowned. “You’re cold.”

Hank’s smile split his tired old face. Connor couldn’t help smiling, either, not in the face of their shared relief. “Yeah,” said Hank. “It’s fucking freezing out here.” He took a step closer, looking Connor over from head to foot. “You need a jacket,” he said. “Why didn’t that bastard give you a jacket?”

“I didn’t ask,” said Connor. “I thought you’d want to leave here as soon as possible.”

“You’re damn right I do,” said Hank. “Let’s get the fuck out of here and go home.”

They chatted quietly on the ride home. Hank said the humans had finally paved the roads after several days of snow accumulation. Connor asked if that was because they were used to androids doing it. Hank said the city had always been bad about it.

The houses they passed were still largely abandoned, though a few had lights on in their windows. One even had a Christmas wreath up on the door. “It’s a curious custom,” said Connor.

“Yeah,” Hank agreed, but Connor noticed that when they pulled into his driveway, Hank had mounted a string of Christmas lights over his door. Half the bulbs weren’t lit. He didn’t point that out.

Sumo turned in circles when Connor walked in behind Hank. Connor registered, as he pet him and endured copious amounts of slobber licked all over his face, that Sumo had lost 0.3 lbs. since Connor had last seen him at Recall Center No 5. Hank was keeping to Sumo’s diet. Connor felt that warmth in tighten in his chest, that inexplicable near-physical feeling he got whenever he thought of Hank. His system couldn’t define it, but Connor had figured out what it meant.

“You were right about the fish,” said Hank, shrugging out of his coat and draping it over a chair. “If it makes you feel any better, I buried them.”

Connor tilted his head, but nodded. “Thank you.” Burial meant nothing to him, but he recognized it as another important human custom. He knew Hank had buried Cole. “It does.”

Hank snorted. “You’re a shitty liar.”

Connor raised his eyebrow. “Cyberlife designed me to integrate seamlessly with humans. As such, I am highly capable of deceiving any human. Except you,” he added. “Somehow you managed to undo all of Cyberlife’s months of research and development.”

Hank smiled. This time, Connor didn’t wait for him to bridge the gap between them. He met Hank in the middle.

Hank dragged him the rest of the way into a bone-crushing hug. Connor buried his face in the crook of Hank’s neck. Hank’s breath was shaky and wet. It smelled of hot dog – vegan hot dog. He was keeping to his diet.

“You stupid fucking idiot,” Hank mumbled against his hair. Connor smelled salt. Hank was crying. “You dumb fucking idiot boy.”

Connor smiled against his shoulder, holding Hank just as tightly.

“I love you, too, Hank.”

---

M A R K U S

Dec. 23rd, 07:59 am

Markus repurposed the four domed warehouses as memorials. All the android bodies discarded or destroyed during the Revolution were arranged beneath the ground. They somberly collected the bodies from the junkyard near the lake, cleaning them as best they could.

Connor had made good on his promise, too: after Markus settled everyone into Cyberlife Tower, Officers Miller, Wilson, and a whole contingent of DPD had brought the bodies from Central Station’s evidence locker to Markus, each respectfully in a plastic casket.

Markus placed them all side by side, the last of the thousands finally laid to rest, as tens of thousands of androids watched on.

His hand hovered on Simon’s casket. North took his arm, and Josh stood quietly to his other side.

“It started with the four of us,” Markus said softly.

“We’re finally all back together,” said Josh.

They outfitted the dome of the warehouses with reflective glass panes, bathing the insides with natural light. “They lived in hiding and in darkness,” said Markus. “Now, they’ll rest forever in the sunlight.”

North found him near the island’s edge, overlooking the river, far from the bustle around the Tower. He sat with his feet dangling over the cement edge, maybe five feet above the surface of the river. A chill breeze came off the frigid water, rustling his sweatshirt and disturbing the current.

“I wondered where you got to,” she said. He looked back at her. She’d cut the sleeves off a Cyberlife employee shirt, tying it up to the side. She wore a pair of trackpants rolled up around sneakers, and her long hair fell freely down her shoulders.

“I wanted to see the sunlight,” he said, an echo of a conversation that felt like years ago. “You look comfortable,” he added, nodding at her getup.

She plopped down next to him. “I am,” she admitted, swinging her feet over the edge. “There’s a rooftop terrace on the 93rd floor. It’s got a 360 degree view of the whole city,” she said, nodding out towards the Detroit skyline. “It’s quiet. Peaceful.”

Markus had to smile. “You don’t sound too disappointed.”

North raised her eyebrow. “I know where you have that detonator for the radioactive cobalt, in case things get too boring.”

Markus frowned. “I thought we destroyed that bomb,” he said.

“Did we?” North asked, pursing her lips, and then laughed as his eyes widened. “Don’t worry. I won’t blow up the city. I kinda like it here, now that we don’t have a target on our backs.”

North held out her hand. He placed his palm against her, glowing blue as their skin receded and they connected.

“It does feel good,” said Markus, letting himself truly feel it; that weight off his back, that constant need to look over his shoulder. It felt good. It felt…

“Feels like freedom,” said North. She laced her fingers between Markus’ and squeezed. “As nice as this is,” she said after a moment, “I gotta head back to the Tower and see to the Tracis. They wanted to hang a disco ball in the great hall of the Tower.” She climbed to her feet and planted a kiss on the top of his head. “We’re gonna have to think of a name for this place.”

“I’ll put it to a vote,” he said.

“Better give them options,” North warned, “Or the Jerrys will rig the vote and we’ll have Pirates Cove 2.0.”

Markus laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“What would you do without me?” she grinned.

He smiled at her. “I honestly don’t know.”

She winked at him, and jogged back towards the Tower. Markus looked back out over the river. He’d tried thinking up names, but nothing had come to him. It should probably be something symbolic and meaningful. His instinct was to call it after Carl, but that’s why he had people like Josh. A university professor could come up with something clever and insightful.

Markus rubbed his hands over his legs. He should do that now, or do something now. He had thousands upon thousands of people on Belle Isle to see to, with more arriving every day. They needed to whip this place into a home and erase everything Cyberlife about it.

He stole another moment of peace and steeled himself. Time to get back to work.

“Hello, Markus.”

Connor.

Connor.

Markus stumbled to his feet, turning. Connor stood in a simple pair of jeans and a white button up shirt. His hands were folded behind his back and his LED glowed a steady blue. His hair rustled gently in the morning breeze, and eyes were warm and, most importantly, alive.

Markus closed the distance between them and grabbed him, pulling Connor tight into an embrace. Connor stiffened for a moment, surprised, but his arms tentatively wrapped around Markus’ back. Markus breathed him in. He thought he’d lost him.

They held each other for a long moment, no sound but the soft sway of the river water behind them.

“Hank said he was going to Kamski,” Markus said into Connor’s shoulder. “But I didn’t want to hope.”

“I’m sure there will be consequences of some kind,” said Connor, ever the pragmatist. “Kamski is not the type to be altruistic with no ulterior motive.”

“We’ll deal with any consequences later,” said Markus. He stepped back enough so he could look at him. He held up his hand, his skin peeling away. Connor lifted his with no hesitation.

Usually with Connor, Markus got staccato flashes of memory, rippling emotions unsure of where to settle. In that moment, Connor was a sure, steady presence. Markus felt warmth and hope, and he couldn’t tell which of them it was coming from. Both of them, together.

“I’m glad we didn’t lose you,” said Markus.

Connor raised an eyebrow. “It takes more than a bullet to get rid of me.” He nodded at the Tower. “I heard you blackmailed the President,” he said.

“Took a page out of your book,” Markus said. “And got rid of Perkins, too.”

“Hank told me,” said Connor with a grin. “In minute detail.”

“He’s alright?”

“We all are,” said Connor. “You made it right, Markus. You’ve given us all a chance.”

“I didn’t do it alone,” said Markus. He’d never been alone on this journey, and there was nothing he was more grateful for. He had his people behind him, his friends at his side, and the whole world at their feet.

That feeling passed through their connection, and Connor smiled, a rare, soft smile Markus had only seen in him when he thought Hank wasn’t looking. “What’s our next objective?” he asked.

“For our people?” Markus said. He looked at Detroit, devastated but standing, waiting for its people to come home and rebuild in a new society. He looked back at the Tower, at home, alight with activity and the hopes of thousands who’d changed the world. He looked back at Connor, his eyes soft in the pale morning light, free of worry and fear, but even now searching for somethingAlways searching for something. 

Markus shrugged, and smiled.

“Life,” he said. “Isn’t that purpose enough?”

Chapter Text

Dec. 25th, 1:30 pm

The soft sounds of Debussy’s Nuages, adapted for piano, echoed through the dark halls and bare rooms of the sprawling, minimalist mansion. The flickering whites and blues from the giant television screen suspended from the ceiling danced on the sleek tile floors, the only other light sources the pale winter sunlight streaming from the wall of windows overlooking the cold river and the Detroit skyline. Cyberlife Tower rose higher than the rest.

The usual steady stream of news prattled on beneath the tinkling of discordant piano. The Queen’s Christmas address in the United Kingdom embraced sharing the world with a new species. The American President Cristina Warren’s photograph shaking the hand of the United Nation’s android liaison Josh on Christmas Eve went viral on the internet. Rumor had it that the androids were voting on names for their Tower – the news had a field day speculating with “insider sources” that the top contenders were the Detroit Center of Peace, Unity Tower, Manfred Tower, Pirates Cove, or simply Jericho 2.0 – though no official word had come from Markus and attempts at comments had been rather aggressively rebuked by his second-in-command, North.

Chloe model RT600 muted the television.

Images of the androids tearing down those statues of metal men that Carl Manfred had designed for a twenty-two year old inventor with a particular artistic aesthetic reflected onto the glass of the windows. The erection of a Christmas tree on Belle Isle in the largest one’s place drew particular media attention. The androids were making Detroit their own, and the whole world was watching.

Chloe model ST200 cleared his lunch from the minimalist table at the side of the low, metal chair. A second, recently refurbished Chloe ST200 changed the tint settings on the window.

For the first time since Carl Manfred had loaned vast sums of money to get a startup tech firm off the ground, Cyberlife was wholly owned and operated by Elijah Kamski. Its machines had evolved and achieved not only sentience, but free will and equal rights.

“Your drink, Mr. Kamski.”

Elijah sat alone in that low metal chair in the midst of his vast, empty mansion. He held out his hand, gesturing for a robe. Elijah stood. RK900 model 313-248-317—87 held up the garment as Elijah shrugged into it, enveloped by its satiny smoothness. The RK900 was beautiful, but largely silent. The Chloes were intimidated by it, but it did little more than watch and obey. Cyberlife had built it to be perfect where the RK800 had failed. Kamski wanted to test that perfection. But for now, he let it stand silently by, waiting and watching.

It tracked his movement as he fastened the belt around his waist, before Elijah turned to his most prized possession for the proffered drink. It had taken considerable damage, but no one knew androids like their Creator. With a fair amount of sweat and sleepless nights, he’d managed to bring it back online with a reprogrammed primary function and 0.5% of its prime model’s memories – a taste of freedom, even if it couldn’t place it.

“I told you, Connor.” He plucked the cold tumbler of whiskey from the outstretched hand of the RK800 Connor model 313-248-317—52, standing obediently before him with its warm brown eyes and characteristic little curl of hair.

Kamski patted Connor fondly on its freckled cheek. What a fun experiment this would be.

“Call me Elijah.”

---

The End.